Traditional Celebration in Pagoda during Khmer New Year

In an ancient time, Khmer New Year, also known as Bon Chol Chnam Thmei in Khmer language, was celebrated in either November or the beginning of December. Owing to the fact that the large majority of Khmer citizens was farmers plus the duration between November and March was the harvest season here, Khmer King – named Suriyavaraman II or Jayavaraman VII – decided to shift the date of the New Year from the 1st to 5th month of the lunar calendar, which was in April by the solar calendar, during the 13th century – the Angkor Era.

In April, Khmer people, after diligently harvesting rice crops from the fields to sell to clients for profit making, can have spare time as a vacation. Hence, this month is the most suitable time for the celebration. Originally, the ceremony came from Bramhmanism, a religion Khmer people obeyed and believed in prior to the arrival of Buddhism, and it was a part of Hinduism. Afterward, Buddhism, the religion Khmer people have respected and followed till these days, became relevant to the festival and then significantly played a role in the whole festivity.

Normally, Khmer New Year lasts for 3 days, sometimes can be 4 days, in April, and most Khmers begin to calculate their ages a year older during its arrival. It can be hosted on 13th or 14th of April, relying on the ancient horoscope – Moha Sangkran. The first day is called ‘Moha Sangkran’. The term ‘Sangkran’, originating from Sanskirt word ‘Sankranta’, is defined as the sun movement into a new Zodia sign, while the word ‘Moha’ is referred to greatness. Following some opinions, ‘Moha Sangkran’ even means welcoming to the new spirits. For the second day, it is ‘Virak Wanabot’, which means the day of offering presents to elderly people, including parents and grandparents. And the last day is given a name as ‘Tnai Lieang Sak’ meaning that we begin to count the year up from this day onward.

During the first day of the New Year, most Khmers always prepare and bring food to nearby pagodas in the morning to offer to monks in order that they can receive blessings in return. They, moreover, would pray to their ancestors’ souls and cautiously wash Buddha figurines to obtain blessings of happiness, good health, and even beauty in their next lives. Based upon the belief, this activity can also help them acquire the merits for healing any skin diseases.

In the afternoon, everyone starts to surround five small mountains of rice grants, representing Buddha’s footprints left in five distinct areas, and they take turn to throw a handful of rice grains to the base of the five tiny mountains, which were neatly built in the center. Following the belief, if one wants a happy life, she/he requires to give the first grains of rice to the monks who traditionally perform the ceremony; involving various activities such as planting a series of bamboo sticks wrapped with decorated paper, lighting joss sticks as well as spraying light-smelled perfume over the rice-grant mountains.

Noticeably, each and every house has been cleaned up and decorated with fairy lights, colorful stars and plants, and everyone dresses up with their new clothes to welcome the new guarding angel, who is appointed to take care of the entire nation in the following year. Traditionally, they also set up a table garnished with diverse flowers, especially lotus – either white or pink, fresh fruits and other sacred things for the new angel who is coming to replace the previous one. Old people, at this time, would pray to the Dharma because they believe that any angel coming to their homes will reside with them and look after their family members throughout the coming year. And it is said that washing faces in the morning, chests in the afternoon, and feet all with holy water in the evening can even bring us good luck.

On the second day, each family reunions and offers their presents to parents and grandparents, while children even receive new clothes and money. It is additionally the time when people present gifts to employees and even donate money or old stuffs to the less fortunate living in hardships. In the evening, we can see lots of people gathering at the temples to take part in dedication ceremonies, make offerings to the monks, pray for their ancestors and stake sand mountain, which has a central peak surrounded by four smaller tops, in honor of Buddha.

While elders indulge themselves with traditional music, known as Pin Peat in Khmer language, at the pagodas, adults, either men or women, simultaneously enjoy playing diverse traditional games, namely Chol Chhoung, Chab Kon Kleng, Leak Kanseng, Bos Angkunk, so on and so forth, altogether at any fields in their villages or even at the monasteries. Also, they all wholeheartedly enjoy dancing traditional songs – the most popular one is Roam Vong. During the festival, it is actually a great chance for single people to search for their married partners either.

In the morning of the third day, the Cambodians do the same things as what they have done in the previous two days like making offerings to the monks and praying at the temples. Within the same period, they even perform a ceremony where the sand mountain gets blessed. In the evening, Khmer people, in order to complete the New Year festival, ought to perform the last traditional ceremony, denoted as Pithi Srang Preah, meaning providing a holy bath to Buddha statues, monks, grandparents, parents, and elders to apologize for any mistakes they have made in the previous year and even to gratify them. Through the washing, everyone is capable of cleaning their bad deeds away and it is also assumed to bring prosperity plus happiness in life.

Overall, Khmer New Year is not just the celebration, yet also the joyous occasion for family reunion and relative gathering after the busy and tiring months of working. It is even a special time for each family member to meet, sit on the same table to have delicious meals, and play any traditional games altogether. Whenever the New Year approaches, everyone feels absolutely thrilled toward it and really wants the festival duration to last longer since the activities and moments they all share during the celebration do melt their stress from work away and they actually feel warm mainly due to family gathering as many local people, in particular Khmer adults, have decided to migrate to the capital city with the purposes of higher education and employment these days.