La Femme et l'Oiseau (Women and Birds)

by Pierre Le Roux

Publication: Author's publication

Language : French

2006 - 92 pages

This essay on bird cultural representations and their correlation with feminity explores numerous cultures through Southeast Asia.

Regarding Cambodia, the author stresses the centrality of three bird-like mythical figures in Khmer folklore and traditions: hângsa (from Sanskrit hamsa), wild goose often assimilated to the swan, kinari, the bird-woman so important in the Reamker, and khrut, the Khmer version of the garuda, often associated with drought.

As a symbol of aesthetical perfection -- "an embodiment of grace, frailty and strength" --, the bird often meets with the female principle, a promise of a new life to be born. Icarus and fertility, an truly encompassing concept...

Photo: Birds at Pek Toal Bird Sanctuary, Cambodia

About the hangsa (KH ហង្សទ, SK हंस, haṃsa or hansa): this aquatic bird of passage, which various scholars have interpreted as the goose, the swan,or even the flamingo, is an icon used in Indian and Southeast Asian culture as a spiritual symbol and decorative element. In Hindu tradition, this bird is the vahana (vehicle) of Brahma, Gayatri, Saraswati, and Vishvakarma.

Below: Hangsa as a ceiling support in in Wat Preah Theat Basrey, Tbong Khmum Province (Photo Kim Hong).

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About the Author

Pierre Le Roux

Pierre Le Roux is an ethnologist and a professor of ethnology at Strasbourg University.