Volume 2 No.4

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Overheard





The Dance Of The New Year
By: Ly Vanna . Picture Courtesy of Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts ( April, 2002 Volume 2 No.4 )

As New Year rolls towards another village in Siem Reap province, a group of dancers in traditional dress move from house to house, acting out an annual pilgrimage, singing their intentions to any who will listen. "Oh pretty girls! With genuine hearts, you may come to join us to dance troddi, a Khmer dance. “Cha-chara chara, darling! Now, our troddi troupe is arriving in front of your house. Are we allowed to perform for you?" they sing.
Troddi is an ancient dance of New Year, performed to drive out the bad luck spirits of the past year and encourage good luck for the new. Troddi is a Sanskrit word meaning a separation or cut, and is usually adapted in modern Khmer as trusty. The dance is thought to have originated with the Samrer people, an ethnic group living with the Khmer in the time of Sovannaphoum (Golden Land) before Indian influences reached the empire. Over time, this became an annual festival. This theory may be related to an ancient legend associated with the story embodied in the troddi dance.
Once upon a time, a hunter named Bun and his wife Ouma lived in the mythical Savthei district. One day, they ventured into the forest to hunt, but none of the animals they usually encountered were anywhere to be found. Bun suspected the forest spirits had intentionally hidden all their potential prey. So he prepared offerings and prayed to the local spirits and goddesses, begging to be allowed to see one animal. At last the spirits took pity, and a golden deer with bejeweled horns appeared and he was able to kill it. Looking at his prize, he realized that it was too auspicious for a poor hunter such as he, and delivered it instead to his king. The king was delighted, and as a reward granted Bun the provincial governorship and made Ouma an Excellency. To express his gratitude to the gods and spirits, the hunter-turned-governor developed a dance describing the miracles that had raised him to his new position. This dance, the legend contends, was troddi. Others contend that troddi describes a chapter of Buddha's life on his journey to enlightenment. While seeking Nirvana, Bodhisattava (the mortal incarnation of Buddha before he reached Nirvana) was confronted by a mear, or devil, disguised as a golden deer. His wish to destroy this enemy shook the celestial ring, prompting gods to transform themselves into hunters (in this case, ogres) and other followers to kill the golden deer.
Those who believe this version say troddi was thus created with different performers to represent different characters in the Buddha's struggle deer and wild bulls are devils, tep - apsar or goddesses are represented by musicians, other players representing tevada (gods) in human form and the musical instrument dang-kangchher representing the umbrella used to shelter the Bodhisattava during his journey. The number of dancers depends on the troupe. In some localities all the performers are men. Usually, however, they are mixed, and made up of performers aged between 16 and 25. "…A panicked deer is running to escape from a hunter, the hunter has shot the wrong target…. The deer's appearance catches the eyes of many giants and they chase the deer, too…. While monsters with very long nails appear and set ambushes in the forests... Peacocks and wild bulls also turn to block the deer's way…. And the deer's fate is sealed… May our troddi troupe, our instruments packed away in oxcarts, say good-bye to you."