Apsara, 12th - 13th century
Sandstone 61 1/4 in. x 26 in. x 5 1/2 in. (155.58 cm x 66.04 cm x 13.97 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, anonymous gift2007.48
The exterior walls of an Indian Hindu temple are peopled with a pantheon of minor divinities who assert the sacredness of the grounds and the auspicious nature of the abode of the god. In Southeast Asia, builders of Hindu and Buddhist temples adopted a similar practice, including male and female figures which, like their counterparts in India, are often identifiable only as a class of beings.
In Cambodia, the most common group of auspicious beings carved on temple exteriors is the apsara (celestial nymph). Apsara were born from the primordial Ocean at the time of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk to extract the elixir of immor- tality, amrita. Beautiful and potent, they reside in the heav- enly court of Indra, so we might surmise their presence on the Hindu temple helps to recreate that heaven.
In Cambodian art, these apsara comprise a formidable pop- ulation on both Hindu and Buddhist temples, particularly in the 12th and 13th centuries; close to 2,000 apsara adorn the single 12th-century temple of Angkor Wat. The many Bud- dhist temples built during the reign of Jayavarman VII (circa 1181–1220) display hundreds of these exotic females. As with this example, the exquisitely adorned women, enclosed between pilasters and under floral arches, were carved onto the pre-existing wall of the temple. This apsara holds a lotus bud, and though frontal, her feet are represented in profile, either to relieve her static pose or to avoid having to foreshorten them.