CAMBODIA ARCHITECTURE AND DANCE
After a visit to the temples of Angkor, visitors are often stunned by the intricate carvings seen at every turn: the detailed friezes, the rich galleries depicting scenes from Cambodian history, with Buddhist statues dating back hundreds of years. It is simply one of the world’s wonders, and is a highlight not just of Cambodia, but the whole of Southeast Asia. It is Cambodian architecture at its best, though archaeologists can only dream about what the entire city would have looked like: if the Khmer artisans could design such buildings in stone, imagine what they could have completed in wood?
The legendary Apsara is a key part of Cambodian mythology; these celestial dancers, winged, and resembling angels, performed for Cambodian Kings, and the style and hand movements are closely linked with Thai classical dance. The re-opening of the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh has been the driving force behind the revival of Cambodian dance, where dozens of children are being taught the heritage that was nearly destroyed forever.
CAMBODIA SCULPTURE AND HANDICRAFTS
Influenced by Indian forms, Cambodian sculptors excelled at their craft, producing a dizzying variety of statuary that mainly depicted Indian gods like the multi-armed Vishnu. Though many statues were destroyed, the best examples have been collected, restored and displayed at Phnom Penh’s National Museum.
Excellent souvenirs of reproduction statues are sold in Siem Reap, where young carvers are at work again, recreating the beauty of the smooth, sensuous forms that typified the height of Cambodian artistry. Handicrafts in the country are linked to the Angkor period, and also make excellent souvenirs, with silver being a favourite material. The Central Market in Phnom Penh has an extensive silver section, where all kinds of boxes, jewellery and other items are for sale.
CAMBODIA MUSIC AND LITERATURE
The Royal Court at Angkor enjoyed music as part of the celebrations, mainly religious, that took place in the kingdom; musical instruments no longer exist; Apsaras carved into the galleries of Angkor Wat carry flutes
and other instruments. With the loss of much of Cambodia’s ancient music, the younger generation has embraced Western pop music in a big way, and this is the typical kind of music one hears today on the streets and cafes in the country.
Buddhist scriptures were historically written on banana leaves, and the tropical climate and Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970’s have been devastating to the collection of ancient Cambodian writing. Sanskrit, which originated in India, and the younger Pali script, were the key methods of writing, and today, visitors travelling with a guide who can read these languages will be able to translate directly off the walls of Angkor Wat, where many temples have been richly decorated in verses from these languages.