The Magical Art of Cambodian Shadow Puppetry Has Entertained for Centuries

As a child, you may have crowded around a flashlight or a candle during a slumber party or while playing with your siblings at night, playfully casting silly shadows on the wall in the form of ghosts and turkeys as you drifted to sleep.

But some countries have taken this simple act of shadow play and turned into it into a rich entertainment form that can be traced back to ancient religious and cultural practices.

Various kinds of shadow theater have existed for centuries across much of Asia and Europe — particularly Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, China, Egypt and India, though some studies, such as one published in 2003 in the journal JSTOR, suggest that the long-standing practice originated in Central Asia or India. Others claim that it originated in China. Sea routes and travel across the steppes of Eurasia may have been the thread that connected these far-flung shadow theaters in different parts of the region.

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