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This lacquer painting is a stunning rendition of three of the hand movements used in traditional Khmer dancing.
Traditional Khmer dancing is intended to tell a story, to share a message. There are four specific genres of Khmer dancing, namely Palatine, also known as court dance, Lakhon Khol - which is a drama played entirely by men, folk dance and shadow theatre. When learning about Angkor, one often comes across the term Apsaras, relating to women. These were the messengers and entertainers for the Devatas, the women portrayed in Angkor Wat, as well as deities.
The first hand position shown is the Kbach Cheep, which is used to invoke the image of young leaves. Some say there is a similarity to the Vitarka Mudra, which indicates intelligent discussion or argument.
The second gesture shows a two handed movement in which one can see quite how expressive these movements are.
The third is the Kbach Coung, representing fruit, which has also been likened to the Jnana Murda, which means teaching.
As you can see by the positions of the fingers, which are in some cases bent very far back, Cambodian dancers must undergo rigorous training to achieve the grace and flexibility necessary to perform these movements. They must train their fingers by holding the position for longer and longer, sometimes even hours, which is why Khmer dancing is so unique, and such a privilege to see.