The 1,796 female figures rendered in sandstone on Angkor Wat’s pillars and walls have weathered war and a harsh tropical environment for more than 800 years. During my first visit to Angkor Wat in 2009, I was struck by the beauty and individuality of these devatas, which decorate the largest religious building in the world. When I visited Cambodia again last month, I was just as intrigued.
I wonder how many artisans it took to carve these bas-relief figures?
Are they modeled after real women of centuries past? If so, and if they could speak, what stories would these women tell?
Some scholars have concluded that the beautiful, mystical women adorning Angkor Wat are heavenly goddesses, whereas others on the website Devata question if they are actual representations of real women who lived during the Angkor Empire.
Peruse this gallery of black & white images to see for yourself.
Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene.
A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia.
Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.
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14 thoughts on “The Devatas and Apsaras of Angkor Wat in Black & White”
I love these pictures, and thanks for sharing! I’ve been dying to go to Angkor Wat, and these are yet another source of inspiration!
Ashleypaige, so happy you enjoyed the pictures. Here’s hoping that you’ll make it to Angkor soon. It’s a magical place, with special people! I’ll be doing more series of Angkor shots in the coming days – currently in between marathon bus trips in Vietnam! :)
Great images Tricia – the dark tones turned out so well in your photos!
Thanks, Marina! The detail of the devata carvings is quite incredible isn’t it? I could photograph these all day…
Angkor Wat truly is a wonderful place! Before I went, I visited Angkor National Museum in downtown Siem Reap, and that gave me a wealth of knowledge to better kick in the trip. Apsaras are indeed mysterious creature, and based on what they said apsaras are the by product of the churning of the milk ocean to obtain the elixir of life.
Bama, I don’t know how we missed this museum in Siem Reap! Certainly, it’ll be something we’ll have to visit the next time we’re in Cambodia.
It’s very worth a visit, Tricia. It’s even better and more informative than the state museum in Phnom Penh. Don’t miss it the next time you go to Siem Reap. :)
Noted on our ‘must-see list.’ :)
One of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever visited… The Aspara mystic left me spell-bound, and I hope to return…there is so much to see in Cambodia and other parts of SE Asia. Great shots!
Randall, I agree about there being so much to see in that region. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent about 5 months there, and still feel as though we only scratched the surface. When was your last time in Cambodia?
I was in Cambodia about 7 years ago…and hope to travel back this spring or fall. I loved it. Just visited Myanmar, and that too exceeded my expectations greatly. Are you based in SE Asia?
No, at the moment we’re based in Croatia, but we’ll be moving on in early March.
In late 2011, we embarked on a 5-month sabbatical that took us through a bit of India and 7 countries in SE Asia. We’d also hoped to get to Myanmar, but the visa paperwork didn’t come through soon enough. I’ll be looking forward to reading your thoughts and seeing your imagery from the country, though. How long were you there?
I was in Myanmar for 15 days, and loved every one of them. Great people, and the diversity of the country surprised me. Much to see out there, and you are sure doing it right!
Randall, I finally had the opportunity to peruse your brilliants shots of Bagan yesterday. How wonderful that you had the chance to explore the country with your sister. I’m hoping we will have the opportunity to visit there before it loses its authenticity.