Obituary: Norodom Buppha Devi, Cambodian princess who made her mark as a dancer

NEW DELHI, INDIA:  Her Royal Highness and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia Princess Norodom Buppha Devi (L) and Indian Secretary for Tourism Rathi Viney Jha (R) sit on dias during a session on "Buddhism and Globalisation" on the second day of the International Conclave on Buddhism and Spiritual Tourism in New Delhi, 18 February 2004.  Large numbers of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Korea, Nepal,Singapore,Cambodia and other Buddhist countries are participating in the three day conclave which will culminate in a dedication ceremony at The Mahabodi Temple in Bodhgaya 19 February, where Budda gained enlightenment. AFP PHOTO/ Prakash SINGH  (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA: Her Royal Highness and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia Princess Norodom Buppha Devi (L) and Indian Secretary for Tourism Rathi Viney Jha (R) sit on dias during a session on "Buddhism and Globalisation" on the second day of the International Conclave on Buddhism and Spiritual Tourism in New Delhi, 18 February 2004. Large numbers of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Korea, Nepal,Singapore,Cambodia and other Buddhist countries are participating in the three day conclave which will culminate in a dedication ceremony at The Mahabodi Temple in Bodhgaya 19 February, where Budda gained enlightenment. AFP PHOTO/ Prakash SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)
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Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Born: 
8 January 1943 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Died: 18 November 2019, aged 76.

Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, eldest daughter of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk and a famed dancer, has died.

She was the half sister of the country’s current king, Norodom Sihamoni, but was best known as a practitioner and promoter of classical Cambodian dance.

Cambodia’s Constitutional Council, of which she was a member, announced she died at a hospital in Thailand. The cause of death was not given.

Buppha Devi was the daughter of Sihanouk’s first wife, the late Phat Kanthol, to whom he was briefly married. She learned dance as a small child and became lead dancer in the royal troupe by age 16. In that capacity she played a major role in her father’s cultural diplomacy, especially in presenting shows for visiting foreign leaders, including France’s Charles de Gaulle.

She was particularly well known for her performance and production of the Apsara dance, inspired by the female spirits depicted in stone carvings on the walls at Cambodia’s legendary Angkor Wat.

Known in her youth for being headstrong, Buppha Devi was the subject of much gossip about her colourful romantic life. She was married four times, once to the son of an Italian diplomat and the other times to Cambodians of royal blood, and had five children.

She escaped from Cambodia before the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover, returning to the country in 1991 with Sihanouk. At least five of her 12 siblings are believed to have been killed by the Khmer Rouge, and only about 10 per cent of the royal dance troupe survived the brutal 1975-79 rule of the communist group.

Buppha Devi served as culture minister in 1999-2004, and as recently as 2018 was directing classical dance troupes on performances abroad.