Many aspects of Cambodian cultural and artistic heritage were engraved on the walls of temples and in stone inscriptions throughout the country, including Lakhon Khol, which was inscribed in stone as well as handed down through oral tradition and later documented on paper.
Lakhon Khol is a Cambodian masked theater that originated during the 10th century during the reign of King Jayavarman V (968-1001). Today, Lakhon Khol remains popular and attracts the attention of Cambodians as well as the world, as it was recently recognised by UNESCO on their global list of significant intangible cultural heritage.
Ung Chhuon Mony, a student from Romeas Hek district in Svay Rieng province, took up the art of Lakhon Khol while studying at the Secondary School of Fine Arts, where he is still attending classes.
“I became interested in Lakhon Khol because I understood that there were many interesting points to it, including helping to preserve the culture and keep it alive for the next generation and to help preserve the cultural heritage inherited from our ancestors,” said Chhuon Mony.
The young student wants his children and grandchildren to be able to inherit the art of Lakhon Khol and to see it continue and survive, while even now the art form and the technology it uses in its staging are evolving with modern society.
“I want to be a Lakhon Khol teacher because I want to train the next generation to help keep it alive. I will work hard and achieve my dream. When I was young, I really liked Lakhon Khol because there were so many different and exciting styles of dance in it and that’s why I asked my parents to come to this arts oriented secondary school,” he said.
As a fan and a student of Lakhon Khol, Chhuon Mony said he would like to encourage children and the younger generation to help him preserve their ancestral culture by participating in Lakhon Khol or coming to see it performed each year.
According to a volume on Lakhon Khol written by Pich Tum Kravil, inscription K.99 at Sambor Prei Kuk from the 10th century states that there is a Lakhon Khol form called “Pheanei”, “Ramam”, or “Ramam Pheanei”.
In the Pheanei form, the dancers are all men and even the women’s parts are played by me. Also mentioned is Tmen Pheanei or music for Lakhon Khol where the musicians are all men but the cast is mixed gender.
Lakhon Khol is a theatrical adaptation of the Reamker, an epic story that originated in India as the Ramayana. The word khol means masked and lakhon means theatre.
The word khol is found in some other stone inscriptions, such as inscription K.1229C at Wat Proma in Siem Reap province. Another inscription in stone dating from 979 AD talks about a Brahmin priest in Vyathapura who sent six people to work in the Royal Palace at the Nead Khol or House of the Khol Dancer.