Cambodian Arts

These pages are dedicated to sharing information about Khmer traditional Arts.

Pin Peat: Pin Peat music is used firstly in the Royal Court, where some pieces are only played for Royal ceremonies and court dances. However Pin Peat music is also central to traditional Cambodian life, because it is used for classical ballet, shadow puppet theatre, official ceremonies, religious ceremonies and funerals. Click here to learn more.

Mahori: Mahori music is an ensemble of string instruments which plays secular music. Originating in the beginning of the Khmer Angkor era (circa 900 ad) it existed exclusively in the Royal Court, it was said to be unknown to ordinary Cambodians until the mid 20th century, when King Norodom Sihanouk allowed Mahori music to be heard by all. Click here to learn more.

Yike: Yike is an ancient musical/theatrical form, possibly originating from the Malay and Islamic Chham minorities of Cambodia, as the music/singing is very similar to Chham and Malay styles. It is a mix of ancient Khmer and ancient Cham style and also linked to the Khmer Krom minority (near the Vietnam border). The Yike incorporates more simple dance movements than Khmer classical dance, using swinging movements of the hands and a more relaxed movement from the spine. The dancing is accompanied by Rebana drums, voice and the Tro. Click here to learn more.

Classical Dance: From archaeological digs in Cambodia, there is evidence that dance forms existed in pre-historic times. Later, around the 1st century, India strongly influenced a large part of the South-East Asian region including Cambodia.  There is also thought to be influence from Java, Indonesia. Carvings have been discovered of  both the Apsara dancer  and Hanuman (the Monkey King from the Indian Ramayana epic.) dating from the Cambodian Funan period (1st-6th century AD). Click here to learn more.



Traditional Shadow Puppet Theatre – Lakoun Sabaik Toch is an ancient and much loved art-form, originating around a thousand years ago during the Kingdom of Angkor.

Much of it was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 -79 and by the war both before and after the genocide. In Kampot Province where our school is based, there was no Shadow Puppet Troupe and the ancient art of making Shadow Puppets was lost.

With a grant provided by Cambodian Living Arts and the European Union, our teachers and students were taught by Sovannah Phum Puppet Artists. Sovannah Phum is a marvellous, Cambodian artist troupe who with great skill and expertise revived the wonderful art of Shadow Puppetry in Cambodia. Their shows can be seen in Phnom Penh.

They taught us how to make Shadow Puppets and then how to perform them, including techniques of movement, lighting, dialogue and musical interludes.

Puppet photo 2

Thanks to the help of all these people, our school has now revived the art of Traditional Shadow Puppetry in Kampot Province and brought back to Kampot this wonderful theatre.

Traditional Shadow Puppet Theatre is divided into two main forms, the Lakoun Sabaik Toch – Small Shadow Puppet Theatre and the Lakoun Sabaik Thom – Large Puppet Theatre. The smaller theatre is a popular often light-hearted and humorous form of entertainment using ancient and modern storytelling, with a great variety of characters and animals. The large theatre form is considered sacred, as it depicts scenes from the Reamker (Ramayana) derived from the ancient Hindu epic. The puppets are larger and depict characters such as Hanuman the monkey King and Rama. In this latter art form, puppeteers have to be good dancers and athletes, because their puppet creations involve the puppeteers climbing and balancing on one another to create special effects. India influenced ancient Cambodian life from religion, to the alphabet and language. Today Buddhist prayers contain Pali and Cambodian writing is said to be derived from Sanskrit.

Cambodian people practised firstly animism and then Hinduism, before Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Cambodia and became the main religion until the present day.

Both types of Shadow Puppet Theatre are accompanied by dialogue and different character interpretation and by musical interludes of Pin Peat music. The opening of this kind of theatre is done using prayers and chanting. Fruit and incense are offered to the Gods and ancestors of Shadow Puppetry.Puppet photo 3

The method of making puppets is centuries old and involves drying cow-hide for three days, scraping it clean and then painting it with a dye from tree bark which both colours and cures the leather. Once this process is completed, the leather is cut out into smaller, more manageable pieces and stencils of different characters attached. Artists then painstakingly cut out the tiny holes to create intricate ornaments, so that during performances the light shines through the ornaments creating a most beautiful effect.

A large bamboo framed screen is created with a white cloth, so that the puppeteers can hide behind the screen and special lighting is made, so that only the shadow of the puppets themselves can be seen.

Puppet photo 4