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Temple Watch: Heavenly topless bodies

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Legend has it that the Apsara dance figures commonly seen around Angkor, were originally water nymphs that arose from the Ocean of Milk. They were thought to have been sent by the Hindu God Indra to seduce holy men. Tens of thousands of these dancers worked and performed at the temples in Angkorian times and entertained the men after hours. The Apsara became an important feature of Khmer temple art between the eighth and 13th centuries. They are often depicted dancing or flying across the heavens. With slim, wasp-like waists, beautiful costumes, jewellery, headdresses and exposed breasts, they represent an idealised female form. Those seen at the dance shows in Siem Reap and elsewhere are more modestly dressed. Many Apsaras are not dancing or flying across the heavens, but standing in niches or in groups. The standing Apsaras are generally known as devatas. This is a generic name for minor Hindu deities, so strictly speaking the term Apsaras is more appropriate. Some of the best examples of Apsaras are in Angkor Wat, with notable examples at the Bayon and Halls of the Dancers in Preah Khan.

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