Sacred Dancers of Angkor perform at the Bayon

Sacred Dancers of Angkor perform at the Bayon

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The Sacred Dancers of Angkor performing a Buong Suong ritual at the Bayon temple. Photograph: Shasha Constable

Monday night saw Bayon temple lit up with 1,250 candles as fifty dancers from the Conservatoire NKFC Preah Ream Buppha Devi took part in a Buong Suong sacred dance ritual to commemorate Meak Bochea Day, one of the holiest days on the Buddhist calendar.

Conservatoire founder Ravynn Karet-Coxen, who established the Banteay Srei dance school in 2007, started taking her young dancers into the temples of Angkor to “teach them about their legacy, to give them a sense of identity and be inspired by the apsara.”

“While I was there I suddenly thought – that’s it. These were apsara, the link between heaven and earth, and their sole role was to dance. It was the most fitting and most beautiful way I thought to cajole the gods with dance, with ritual, with offerings and with prayers.”

The Sacred Dancers of Angkor, from villages around Banteay Srei and aged between eight and eighteen, have performed in 14 temples including Wat Phou in Laos. Monday was the first time the dancers graced the Bayon.

The ceremony started at 5pm with prayers, before a holy cord made of Angkor cotton was laid in a circle around the dancers, musicians playing traditional instruments and, accompanied by monks’ chanting, the dancers began their slow, delicate movements, dressed in white muslin to signify purity of faith.

“If they are going to pray to the gods they have to be pure; white is pure,” says Ravynn. “I was inspired by the Greek vestals.”

After the three dance rituals – the Buong Suong Yakorn, the Buong Suong Tiyaie and Moni Mekhala – 1,250 candles were lit and carried by the troupe to signify the 1,250 disciples who spontaneously gathered before Buddha to receive his last teaching.

The ceremony was attended by select guests, including the secretary of state from the Ministry of Culture and the governor of Banteay Srei District. “The children of the land of Angkor are so passionate and dedicated,” says Ravynn. “They don’t receive any money to do this. It’s so beautiful and so pure.  It’s important for people to know that the temples need to be respected as a sacred place rather than just an archeological place.”

The Sacred Dancers also perform monthly at Amansara.

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