Many of Cambodia’s myths and legends are based on stories about Buddha’s previous lives, therefore some of the country’s most famous folklore have an Indian lineage, as Mikey Leung explains…
“The Reamker is a Cambodian version of an ancient myth called the Ramayana, that originated in India and first made its appearance in Khmer art as early as the 6th century. Like any good myth passed from generation to generation, it has endured through the ages because of its treatment of human experiences universal to us all: those of love, trust, betrayal and forgiveness.
The tale is not wholly unlike Homer’s famous epic, the Odyssey. In the Cambodian version, the ancient myth tells of a hero who embarks on a dramatic journey to rescue his captured wife with the help of a divine monkey army. Upon the mission’s success, the hero doubts her purity and condemns her to death, but she escapes. While in exile she bears him a son and the gods conspire to bring them together again. He recognises his son and begs her forgiveness. She agrees and eventually they are reunited.
Today, scenes from this epic tale are found all over Cambodia – evidence of its universality in describing Cambodia’s cultural heritage. Elaborate carvings adorn the walls of world-famous Angkor Wat. Paintings found in Buddhist temples, at the National Museum in Phnom Penh and around Cambodia use bright royal colours to depict the tale. Members of the Royal Cambodian Ballet perform the Reamker, wearing incredibly elaborate and beautiful costumes and paying careful attention to their posture, as each hand position reflects Buddhist beliefs. Shadow puppets give life to the immortal form of the myth’s characters. In fact any visitors to the country will see incredibly ornately decorated scenes from this epic story again and again!”
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* photo by Matthew Stewart – Intrepid Photography Competition