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 Prumsodun Ok: Cambodian-American Born to Refugee Parents wanted to be “apsara” Dancer from Age 4

Prumsodun Ok, a Cambodian-American born to refugee parents, is the founder of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, the country’s first gay dance company

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Prumsodun Ok stands in the middle of a street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Prumsodun Ok stands in the middle of a street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 19, 2016. (Courtesy of Lim Sokchanlina). VOA
  • Prumsodun Ok is the founder of Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, the country’s first gay dance company
  • The troupe’s passion for classical Khmer dance has not gone unnoticed
  • Ok has learned “that service is not just about being comfortable: those who are comfortable are not always necessarily right”

Washington, July 1, 2017: Prumsodun Ok, a Cambodian-American born to refugee parents, knew he wanted to be an “apsara” dancer from the age of 4, when he was entranced by a performance captured on one of his family’s home movies.

No matter that the dance dated back to the seventh century, or that traditionally apsaras were beautiful, heaven-born females, destined to entertain gods and kings at the Angkor temples in the ancient Khmer Empire, modern-day Cambodia. Ok focused on the stylized grace of the dancing and thought little about the fact that the dancers were women, because he was a kid and he had a dream.

But he put that on hold for 12 years.

Growing up in Long Beach, California, home to 20,000 Khmer immigrants, Ok was bullied because he was “different.” He recalls being branded as gay and “kteu” — Thai or Cambodian slang for someone who is born male but acts or looks female — when he was 5. That name calling led him to self-identify as gay in his teens.

“I don’t know when I knew,” Ok said about realizing that he was gay, “but I can say that I only became comfortable in my latter years of high school. This is me, this is who I am, and no one can change that or take that away from me.”

That was about the time when, after years of watching his younger sister practice traditional Khmer dances, that he found the courage to approach her dance master.

A rising star among dance students

“I really love dance. Can you please teach me?” Ok pleaded, and Sophiline Cheam Shapiro agreed. Teenager Ok quickly became a rising star at her Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, which is affiliated with an arts ensemble in Cambodia.

The school, founded by Shapiro, teaches traditional arts to Cambodian-Americans. Shapiro was one of the first graduates from Phnom Penh’s School of Fine Arts after the fall of the Pol Pot regime and is revered as one of Cambodia’s leading contemporary dance choreographers.

In 2015, Ok, now 30, moved to Cambodia and established Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA, the country’s first gay dance company. Male dancers ages 18 to 24 fill roles traditionally performed by women. The troupe stages Khmer classical dances as well as new works that Ok creates.

“What I’m doing is drawing from our traditions and using these traditions in ways that people could never imagine to create a more inclusive and compassionate and just Cambodia,” he said.

Coming from “a long tradition of people who are in the service of society … of humanity,” Ok said he has learned “that service is not just about being comfortable: those who are comfortable are not always necessarily right.”

ALSO READExpressing Narratives of Panchatantra through Dance in Chennai to teach Lessons of Life

Cambodian society’s tolerance

Srun Srorn, 36, the founder of CamASEAN and a human rights activist, told VOA Khmer that while the majority of LGBTQ Cambodians are marginalized and discriminated against, society is more tolerant of their role in the arts.

Ok’s group “is more professional, so I think it will bring the positive [response] from the community,” Srorn said. “So far, this part of the art — performing — is not getting any negative reaction from the public.

Ok says his role as a teacher of dance goes beyond the classroom.

“Getting them to learn how to see, getting them to have the courage to ask questions, getting them to have the bravery to explore things on their own,” he said. “Those are the most essential things that a teacher of any art form, or discipline or medium, needs to inspire in their students.”

Choung Veasna, 19, of Phnom Penh, says Ok gave him confidence: “I’ve learned from my teacher that no matter what people say about you, it doesn’t matter.”

Tes Sokhon, 24, from Pailin province, the oldest dancer in the group, says his teacher is inspiring.

“He’s more than my idol,” Sokhon said. “He’s the first teacher to train me in classical dance. He provides us with income and makes our lives better.”

‘Combination of beauty and tradition’

The troupe’s passion for classical Khmer dance has not gone unnoticed.

Craig Dodge, director of sales and marketing at Phare, the Cambodian Circus performance troupe in Siem Reap, said: “When I watched the video on their homepage and heard the young men talk about what performing has meant to them, their identity and their self-esteem, it made me cry.”

Dodge worked with Ok to make the troupe’s Siem Reap debut in Cambodia’s artistic center a reality, by tapping into the city’s strong sense of community, which he describes as “the perfect place for nurturing and presenting traditional and new Cambodian creative expression.”

Resident Darryl Collins, an art historian, is providing the venue without charge because “the combination of beautiful and traditional 100-year-old Khmer houses with an elegant contemporary form of classical dance seemed an exciting collaboration.”

Other Siem Reap businesses are pitching in with free accommodations, transportation, security and are helping stage the performances July 14 and 15.

Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA is scheduled to perform three dances: PRUM x POP, ranging from Khmer classical dance to pop music; Beloved, which explores a 13th century Khmer king’s love for his land; and Robam Santhyea Vehea, a tale of love and marriage of two men.

Ok hopes an open-minded audience will see the performance as a measure of how LGBTQ people can create art in their communities.

“I want the company to be a model for compassion, for bravery, for beauty,” he said. (VOA)

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Angkor Wat: History behind Cambodian Hindu temple

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Angkor Wat: World’s Largest Hindu Temple


In this article, we will discuss about the “History behind Angkor Wat Hindu Temple“, which is the world’s largest Hindu temple located in “Cambodia” – southeast asian nation.


 

Angkor Wat: Lost in the woods for over 400 years, the discovery of Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu monument literally shocked the world. Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s famous temple is a place full of still unexplored history, myth and legend.

Discovery & History of Angkor Wat – World’s Largest Hindu Temple

  • Angkor wat denotes Cambodia’s unwrapped mystery of civilization that for centuries looked like it never existed. The hidden temple was a stuff of legend until 1860 when a French naturalist, “Henri Mohout”  accidently came to that place during his expedition. He saw the ruins of Angkor Wat. But why did the civilization collapse? How did they make this sophisticated temple with no modern technologies? What must have happened?  It’s the high time to uncover these hidden secrets.
  • Angkor, the capital of last Cambodian empire was home to millions of people over 800 years ago. The powerful empire covered South East Asia including Vietnam, Bay of Bengal and North West China. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat is among the wonders of the world. Even today, this world’s largest hundu temple or religious monument has a huge complex stretched at about 200 hectares of land. While entering the main temple a vast gate gives an impression that you have reached the temple, however, you realize that the main temple still is 400 yards away. The expansive nature of temple is seen to be believed.
  • Angkor Wat is also known as the city temple as it was surrounded by urban areas (long back before disappearing). When built,  it was dedicated to representing Hindu god, “Lord Vishnu”. There is a 213 feet high central tower(temple) encircled by 4 small towers representing Mount Meru, a celestial home of god based on Hindu mythology. It took 50,000 workers to build this extraordinary temple, that was completed in the year 1145.
  • This huge temple can be compared to Egyptian pyramids in the context of the strength. Compared to the construction of modern European temples which require almost 300 to 400 years, Angkor Wat was completed in only 32 years. How did they do? The answer to this question lies inside the temple. There is a carving in the main temple which gives clues to the mystery of building this huge temple without any modern technology. The story carved in the stones speaks: a lever used to push big stone blocks one over another to assemble it perfectly. This shows Angkor Wat was planned, assembled and then carved.
  • The surface of this masterpiece is covered with carvings that display the Hindu mythological stories originated in India. But how did the stories from India arrive in Cambodia? The answer is “Indian Traders”. The Indian traders travelling towards south-east Asia passed their religion, art and architecture to the local people of Cambodia. This way the traders were an important part of spreading Hindu culture in Cambodian Empire.
  • Archaeologists have used sophisticated aerial imaging techniques to look into the past of Cambodia. In 1994, NASA took the first image which shows Angkor Wat was huge and another recent satellite image show collection of hundreds of temples in the area. The modern technology has also thrown light on the extensive water management system of the Cambodian empire which existed those times. This shows the engineering marvels of Cambodians. They constructed rectangular reservoirs and water systems in such a way that the water from Kulen Mountain irrigates the farms resulting in a good harvest. It could have been the work of only advanced and skilled people.

History behind Cambodian Hindu temple
Wikimedia

How did the civilization collapse? Hard evidence points towards the failure of Water management system. But the debate is still going on. Surprisingly the temple was never abandoned, a group of Buddhist monks stayed there and aggressively worked to save the religious place for over centuries. This also gradually resulted in the transformation of a Hindu Temple into a Buddhist temple.

In 1992, Angkor Wat was listed as World Heritage site in danger. Subsequently, it was removed from the endangered list, to be included as a World Heritage site. France, Japan and China have helped  in temple restoration project. India’s archaeological department had also chipped in the 1980s. Currently,  German Apsara Conservation project is in place to save the sculptures carved on the stones. Due to the continuous efforts of UNESCO and other nations Angkor Wat has become a major tourist spot with over 2 million people visiting this place every year. (Inputs from Aakash Sinha)(image-Unesco)

Don’t miss articles:

  1. This Ancient Lord Ganesha Temple in Rajasthan Collects 1000 Letters Everyday by Devotees.
  2. Mahalakshmi Temple: Know the Story behind the 300-Year-Old Ancient Shrine.
  3. 13 Beautiful Ancient Temples in India showcase Architectural Brilliance.
  4. Ancient Hindu Temple Changu Narayan in Nepal Possesses Historical Significance.
  5. These 5 Ancient Temples are Believed to be the Oldest in India.

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‘In Standing up for Herself, Edie Also Stood up for Millions of Americans’, Tweets Bill Clinton as the World Mourns the Death of Gay Rights Activist Edith Windsor

Paying his tribute to Edie, former US President Barack Obama rightly said, "Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor - and few made as big a difference to America."

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Edith Windsor
Edie dearly loved the LGBTQ community which loved her right back and held her in reverence for her fight for freedom, equality, and justice. Wikemedia

New York, September 13, 2017 Gay rights activist Edith Windsor, whose same-sex marriage fight led to a landmark US ruling, has died aged 88.

Her death was confirmed to the New York Times by her wife Judith Kasen-Windsor. She died in New York.

“The world lost a tiny but tough-as-nails fighter for freedom, justice and equality,” the BBC quoted Kasen-Windsor as saying.

“Edie was the light of my life. She will always be the light for the LGBTQ community, which she loved so much and which loved her right back,” she added.

Edith Windsor’s Supreme Court case struck down the Defence of Marriage Act in 2013, granting same-sex married couples federal recognition for the first time.

She had sued the US government after being ordered to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax after her previous wife, Thea Spyer, died. The couple had been partners for 44 years and had married in Canada in 2007.

Windsor, known as Edie, argued that the provision of the law which defined marriage as between a man and a woman prevented her from getting a tax deduction due to married couples – and was “unconstitutional”.

In the landmark 2013 ruling, the US Supreme Court agreed – and that decision became the basis for a wave of further court rulings increasing the rights of same-sex couples.

In 2015, another crucial Supreme Court ruling gave same-sex couples the right to marry.

Remembering the gay rights trailblazer Edith Windsor, former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also paid their tributes.

“Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America,” Obama said. While Clinton tweeted: “In standing up for herself, Edie also stood up for millions of Americans…” (IANS)

 

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Temple in Cambodia Raises Sacred Baha’i Symbol which Represents the Relationship between the God and Man

The Baha'i community witnessed this installation of the sacred symbol and offered prayers and devotions during the ceremony

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Baha'i Temple
Sacred Baha'i Symbol called Greatest Name. Wikimedia
  • A temple in Battambang, Cambodia has raised a sacred Baha’i symbol to the apex of its dome
  • The symbol is a representation of the relationship that exists between the God, its various manifestations as well as humans 
  • A prayer ceremony took place recently where the Baha’i community of Cambodia gathered to witness their first House of Worship/ Baha’i Temple in the local area

Battambang, August 23, 2017: A small community of Baha’i people gathered in a local temple in Battambang city of Cambodia. The community had gathered to celebrate their first local temple with a holy Baha’i symbol.

On August 20, the Baha’i temple in Battambang had installed a sacred Baha’i symbol on the apex of its dome. The symbol, known as the Greatest Name, was raised as high as 11.8 meters from the ground.

ALSO READ: Fragments of a shattered Faith: Bahá’í Community of Iran

The Greatest Name was drawn by Mishkin Qalam. It symbolizes the relationship between the God and fellow humans. An important milestone was marked as the symbol was installed in the temple.

From the Arabian Caligraphy comes the Greatest Name which comes from “Baha” or glory. The two identical stars in the symbol represent Baha’u’llah and Bab while the vertical line is a symbol of God diverging into various manifestations including human.

The Baha’i community witnessed this installation of the sacred symbol and offered prayers and devotions during the ceremony.

From the Shrine of Baha’u’llah’s sanctuary, the holy dust has been collected and stored in an ornamental box which Shoghi Effendi originally purchased. This box will reside within the campus of the House of Worship and will denote the pure bond between the Centre of Baha’i faith and the local temple.

The Baha’i Temple is also called the House of Worship. The Battambang House of Worship is planned to be inaugurated on the 1st September of this year. This House of Worship, which is the first in the local area, implies a new era of recognition and development for the Baha’i community.

– Prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter @Saksham2394


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