PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s princess Norodom Buppha Devi, a former director of the country’s royal ballet and culture minister, died on Monday in Thailand, according to a palace statement. She was 76.
The royal died of natural causes at 12.30 pm in Bangkok, where she had been hospitalized for about two weeks, according to the statement. She is survived by her five children.
“I am really shocked and I cried when I received the information that she died. I love her so much. She is a good person to me and to all Cambodian people,” Prince Tesso Sisowath said Monday, reacting to the news of the passing.
Buppha Devi, whose name translates to “Flower Goddess” in Pali, was born in 1943 in Phnom Penh to late King Norodom Sihanouk and Neak Moneang Phat Kanhol. The princess was taught the art of dance from an early age, influenced by her grandmother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak.
Having become the premiere dancer of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia aged only 15, she was given the prima ballerina title just three years on.
The princess spent her early life touring with her grandmother and performing before the worldwide public, breaking with the tradition of solely dancing for royalty and in the honor of gods.
“Once I’m on the stage, I become a dancer, quite simply a dancer,” she told the Phnom Penh Post in 2017.
She worked to help preserve Robam Tep Apsara dance during her time as culture minister between 1998 and 2004 – created by Queen Sisowath under the royal ballet’s patronage – which was outlawed during the Khmer Rouge’s time in power.
During that time, she fled to Thailand to teach dance to refugees and then moved to France.
Buppha Devi – officially the modern era’s first professional Apsara dancer – was also the director of the royal ballet and further worked on propagating the art form in Cambodia and abroad.
There were outpourings of grief nationwide Monday after news emerged of her passing, with many taking to social media to voice their condolences, including the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen.