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Masked dance tradition rises from near extinction in Cambodia

Updated : January 04, 2019 01:15 PM IST

Cambodia's centuries-old tradition of masked dance was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge's "Killing Fields" regime, but a handful of artists managed to keep it alive and are now working to pass it along to a new generation.

Lakhon Khol was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon.

There are different variations in Southeast Asia, all featuring dancers wearing elaborate painted masks depicting the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic poem in which a prince rescues his wife from a demon with help from an army of monkeys.

But in Cambodia, the art form is still struggling to recover from the Khmer Rouge, under whose genocidal 1975-79 rule at least 1.7 million people, including artists, dancers and writers, died, mostly from starvation, overwork, disease, execution or torture.

Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Dancers fix their costumes backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers fix their costumes backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A dancer fixes her headgear backstage before a performance of masked theatre known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A dancer fixes her headgear backstage before a performance of masked theatre known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Dancers get ready backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Dancers wait backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers wait backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers wait backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers wait backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers are seen on stage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Dancers are seen on stage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A dancer with a horse headgear waits backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A dancer with a horse headgear waits backstage during a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers walk behind the curtain on stage after a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers walk behind the curtain on stage after a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Mom Luang Pongsawad Sukhasvasti, 67, works at his theater mask studio in Ayutthaya province, Thailand November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Mom Luang Pongsawad Sukhasvasti, 67, works at his theater mask studio in Ayutthaya province, Thailand November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers try on their costumes backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Dancers try on their costumes backstage before a performance of masked theater known as Khon at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theatre known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theatre known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Male dancers get ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Male dancers get ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol which was recently listed by UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, as an intangible cultural heritage, along with neighbouring Thailand's version of the dance, known as Khon at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer wears a mask before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer wears a mask before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Various masks and elaborate headgerars are placed in the front while a dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Various masks and elaborate headgerars are placed in the front while a dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Dancers perform masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Dancers perform masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol at the Wat Svay Andet buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer with elaborate costume posses before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol, at the Wat Svay Andet Buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer with elaborate costume posses before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol, at the Wat Svay Andet Buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol, at the Wat Svay Andet Buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A dancer gets ready before a performance of masked theater known as Lakhon Khol, at the Wat Svay Andet Buddhist temple in Kandal province, Cambodia December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A traditional Khon theatre mask is seen at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
A traditional Khon theatre mask is seen at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, Thailand November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
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