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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Manimekhala 媚卡拉 មណីមេខលា

Updated: Jan 14

Manimekhala is a goddess in the Hindu-Buddhist mythology. Manimekhala is seen in wat paintings across Mainland Southeast Asia depicting scenes from the Mahajanaka. In Thailand and Cambodia, she is considered a goddess of lightning and the seas.

In the classical dance traditions of Thailand and Cambodia, sacred dramatic dances depict the story of Manimekhala and Ramasura.

Robam Moni Mekhala is a Khmer classical dance that portrays the story of Moni Mekhala (Manimekhala) and Reamesor. It is part of the buong suong dance suite that is among the most sacred of Khmer classical dances, serving a ceremonial purpose to invoke rain upon the land.

The dance narrates the Cambodian myth of rain, thunder, and lighting, which is created from the fight between the strong ugly demon male Reamesor and the beautiful female goddess Moni Mekhala, for the control of the magical crystal ball owned by Moni Mekhala.

According to Cambodian legend, a princely manifestation of the earth, Vorachhun; a goddess of the seas, Moni Mekhala; and Ream Eyso (the storm demon) all studied with the hermit known as Lok Ta Moni Eisei. A wise and powerful hermit possessed a magical crystal ball and must decide to which pupil the crystal ball should be given. He proposed a challenge: the students were told to collect a glass of morning dew and the first to present one will be the winner.

The next morning, the three attempted to collect the morning dew. Among them, Moni Mekhala had the smartest method, spreading her handkerchief on the grass overnight which by morning was damp. She squeezed the dew into the glass and presented it to the hermit. As a reward for her ingenuity, Moni Mekhala was given a glittering crystal ball while Reamesor received a magic axe and Vorachhun a magic dagger.

Jealous of Moni Mekhala, Reamesor determines to seize it at any cost. He plans to seize the crystal ball from Moni Mekhala. En route to Moni Mekhala, Reamesor met Voracchun and kills him. Then, he found Moni Mekhala, but she reacted with compassion instead of fear and evades Reamesor. He kept attacking the goddess. However, Moni Mekhala bounce back and giving a fight to defend herself. Reamesor throwing his axe to Moni Mekhala, producing thunder but not on targets because Moni Mekhala manages to dodge. When the demon tries to grab the crystal ball, Moni Mekhala sent the crystal ball flying into the sky, producing flashes of lightning that temporarily blinds Reamesor. The goddess escapes into the sky. The friction produces nourishing rain, and the fight continues as the cycle of rain on earth.

Cambodians see this legend as the origin of thunder, lightning, and rain. The fight between Moni Mekhala and Reamesor believed to re-occur every year in mid-April around the time of Cambodian New Year. This period is at the height of the dry season just before the monsoon rains will fall and nourish the Cambodian farmland. The monsoon rains symbolizes a renewed life when the dried fields are flooded and fertilized. The dark clouds reminds the locals about the eternal battle between Reamesor and Moni Mekhala and this represent the eternal raining cycle in Cambodia.

This is one of my earliest travel works done in Siem Reap, on location at the famous Angkor Wat.

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