Khmer New Year or Cambodian New Year is the most colorful holiday of the year for Cambodia people. Everyone is graceful and prepare grant celebration for it.
For 2012 the Khmer New Year Days fall on the 13, 14, and 15 of April. It marks the end of Buddhist year 2555 and the start of new year 2556, the year of Dragon.
The first new year day is on Friday April, 13, 2012. The new year angel of this year is Kemira Tevy (កិមិរាទេវី), the sixth daughter of Kabil Moha Prum. She wears a hairpin of violet flower, carries a sword on right hand and a zither (ពិណ) on left hand. She rides water buffalo as vehicle. The special offering for Kemira Tevy is banana (chek namva). So this year the banana price on the market is going to rise in a few days before new year arrived. Because every house will need banana for offering to new year angel.
Kemira Tevy arriving on April 13, time 07:11 pm. So every house must be ready with the offering table and be gathered burning the incense sticks to welcome and make praying to new year angel for a happiness and successful coming year.
Cover of Moha Sangkran for Dragon Khmer New Year 2556
History of Khmer New Year
All nations in the world celebrate new year every year with different date and preparation according to their traditional cultures. Cambodia people also celebrated new year every year since ancient time. It’s among biggest and colorful celebrations of the year. Khmer new year or in Khmer ‘Chol Chnam Thmey’ means ‘entering new year’. And ‘Suo Sdey Chnam Thmey’ for ‘Happy New Year’.
During Angkor era, Khmer celebrated new year based on the lunisolar calendar. According to Chinese diplomat, Zhou Da Guan who visited Khmer empire in 13th century recorded that Khmer celebrated new year in the tenth month of Chinese calendar in the year of his visit, which fell on December or January of Gregorian calendar. And the first month of lunisolar calendar is Mekasay (មិគសិរ) which also falls on end of December or January.
After Angkor period, the new year celebration date has been changed, because Cambodians use both lunisolar and solar calendar. The current new year celebration date was determined based on solar calendar, which typically falls on April 13th or 14th of the Gregorian calendar. And this date is set as official new year days for Cambodians today.
Wat Phnom – Khmer New Year 2012. Because 2012 is the year of Dragon, so Phnom Penh City Hall make a big Dragon in front of the clock at Wat Phnom as the symbol of the year.
Khmer New Year Legend
Cambodian practice the tradition and reinforce their beliefs about heaven, earth, and hell, good and bad karma, in which the result people got is from their deeds in their previod life. And so this life of living they shall do many good deeds for the next better life. There is a legend related to Khmer new year, that people believe that every new year there is one new angle come to take care the earth and its people. The legend goes that…
Once upon a time there is a young man named Dhammabal Koma (ធ្មបាលកុមារ) who is a son of a rich man. Dhammabal Koma has finished his study of the three Vedas and also can speak the language of all birds. His talent and knowledge made him to be famous through out the area.
One day, Kabil Moha Prum (កបិលមហាព្រហ្ម), who is the king of heaven heard about the cleverness of Dhammabal Koma and wanted to challenge him a test of intellectual ability by asking him to solve three riddles within seven days time. The reward of his winning is the king of heaven will cut off his own head and if Dhammabal Koma could not solve the riddles, he must also cut off his head too.
After six days of considering and finding the answers to the King of Heaven’s riddles, Dhammabal Koma has no any sign about it. He was hopeless and thought that he would have to suffer his life for the King of Heaven tomorrow. So he decided to walk into deep forest and kill himself for his ashamedness. After a long distance of struggling in the forest, Dhammabal Koma arrived a big palm tree. Too tired, he fall asleep under the tree. While he was not deeply in sleep, he accidentally listened to the conversation of a vulture couple. The female vulture was enquired her husband about their food for tomorrow, and the male vulture replied that they will have Dhammabal Koma’s flesh for many days. Because he will not be able to solve the riddles. Curiously, the female vulture asked what the riddles were and her husband replied:
1. Where is the charm in the morning?
2. Where is the charm in the afternoon?
3. Where is the charm in the evening?
The male vulture then continues to tell his wife the answers:
1. In the morning, charm lies on people’s face as they wash their face before starting a new day.
2. In the afternoon, charm is on people’s chests as they bathe to cool their body from the afternoon heat.
3. In the evening, charm is at people’s feet as they clean their feet after a full day of work and get ready for bed.
After listened to the conversation of the vulture couple, Dhammabal Koma quickly recovered from tiredness and rush back to his palace waiting for the King of Heaven to answer his riddles.
As promised, Kabil Moha Prum cut off his own head for he have been defeated. But before doing so, the King of Heaven call his seven daughters to him and advised that his head cannot be dropped down on earth or ocean, if not the earth would be destroyed in fire. His head must be putting on a platter and his daughters must take turn to carry his head for ceremonial circle around mount Someru every year during the Sangkran date, to bring happiness and good weather to the earth, before bringing to keep in Kuntheakmali (គន្ធមាលី) temple in heaven.
Angel of New Year
From this legend, Cambodian believe that every year on the first day of the new year or Sangkran day, there is a new angel comes down to earth (for ceremonial circle around mount Someru of Kabil Moha Prum’s heat). Each angel carries different items, has different vehicle and favor on different foods. The uniqueness of each angel are recorded in Moha Sangkran written by Hora (astrologer). So there will be different new year offerings every year.
Depend on which day of the week that the new year falls, determine which angel being the angel of the new year. Below are the list of seven angels and their characteristics.
Sunday angel is Tungsa Tevy (ទុង្សាទេវី) as the oldest daughter of Kabil Moha Prum, wears a ruby necklace, a pomegranate flower hairpin. She carries a disc (ច័ក្រ) on the right hand and on her left hand holding a shell (ស័ង្ខ). Fig fruit (ផ្លែល្វា) is her favorite food. Her vehicle is garuda (គ្រុឌ).
Monday angel is Koreak Tevy (គោរាគទេវី) wears Angkeabos flower hairpin. She carries a sword (ខ័ន្ធ) with her right hand and a cane (ឈើច្រត់) at the left. She rides a tiger and oil is her favorite food.
Tuesday angel is Reaksa Tevy (រាក្យសាទេវី) wears lotus flower hairpin. She drinks blood. In her hands are a trident (ត្រីសូល៍) at right, and a bow (ធ្នូ) at left. Her animal is a horse.
Wednesday angel is Mondar Tevy (មណ្ឌាទេវី) wears a Champa flower hairpin. Her weapons are a needle on right hand, and a cane on left. She drinks milk and rides a donkey.
Thursday angel is Keriny Tevy (កិរិណីទេវី) wears a hairpin of Mondar flower. Beans and sesame are her favorite foods. On her right hand carries a harpoon (កងេ្វ) and on left hand a gun. Her vehicle is elephant.
Friday angel is Kemira Tevy (កិមិរាទេវី) wears a hairpin of violet flower. She prefer banana as offering. She carries a sword on right hand and a zither (ពិណ) on left hand. She rides water buffalo as vehicle.
Saturday angel is Mohurea Tevy (មហោទរាទេវី) wears a hairpin of Trokeat flower. She favors on deer meat. Her weapons are a disc (ច័ក្រ) and a trident (ត្រីសូត៍). She rides a peacock.
Khmer New Year Celebration
In the ancient time, the new year was celebrated for one month, 15 days before the new year day and 15 days after. During this time people relax and enjoying time together with relatives and villages. Nowadays, in some provinces of Cambodia, people still celebrate new year in such a long time. In the city, the new year is celebrated within three days only. And it’s the national holiday, all public and private sector are closed.
Usually a week before the new year days, Monks are invited to perform a Buddhist ceremony at home, in which people believe that it’s to chase away the misfortunes and miserableness of the old year and asking for blessing of the coming new year with happiness and prosperity.
People prepare their house by cleaning or new painting the wall, changing new curtain, replacing new furniture, kitchen wear which are broken. People make themselves new clothes. All these are activities to refresh the bad feeling in the old year and hoping for a good coming year.
During the three days of new year, offerings for welcoming new year angel are prepared on a table placed in front of the house door. The offering included a pair of slathor (made of young banana stem, decorate with flower, betel leaves, areca nuts), cakes, fruits, water and drinks, flowers. Especially the food which is the favorite of the new year angel is a must have. If the angel drink blood, people would offer red syrup instead of blood. If in any year that the new year falls on Friday, Kemira Tevy, she prefer banana. Then in that year, the price of banana would go up twice, as everyone need banana as angel offering.
The time of the new year angel coming is always different from each year. People based on the time written in Moha Sangkran which is calculated by Hora (astrologer). When it’s the time, at the offering table, people started to light candle and burn incence sticks, praying to the new year angel for health, happiness and wealth. And they will pray like this in the 2nd and 3rd days too, but in the morning or at night.
On Khmer New Year days people also build sand hills to eliminate the bad karma for this life and also next life.
Traditionally, Khmer new year is celebrated within three days. Day one is called Moha Sangkran (មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត), day two is called Vonnabot (វណបត), and day three is Lerng Sak (ឡើងស័ក). On these three days, pagodas are decorated with colorful religious plags. The pagoda management team prepare some spaces for traditionals games and dancing for villagers enjoy such as Teanh Prort, Vai Ka om, Chol Chhuong, Bos Ang Kunh, Leak Kansaeng, Sdach Jorng, Klaeng Jab Kon Morn, etc.
Rorb Bart on Khmer New Years Day. ‘Rorb’ means count, ‘Bart’ means alm bow (rice container) which Buddhist Monks use for daily food quest. Devotees would put rice which they bring from home into the alm bow lined. This performance is also believe to eliminate the bad karma for their lives.
On these three days, in the morning people prepare food offering for the monks in the local pagoda. They wearing beautiful traditional dress and gathering at the pagoda. This is to let their ancestors to celebrate the new year with them and also for getting the blessing from ancestors. After that people building sand hill with in the pagoda complex. People believe that building sand hill can help them release from sin which they had accidentally did in this life. In the evening, monk is invited for preaching in the Preah Vihea, and mostly only old people would join this ritual. At night, after finished preaching ceremony, there are various activities for young people such as play traditional games, traditional dancing, or watch Khmer drama (ល្ខោន).
Villagers are gather at pagoda on the Khmer New Year days to offer foods to Buddhist Monks as a mean to reach their passed away ancestors.
According to the tradition of a good Khmer child being, son and daughter must prepare foods and other offering included money for their grandparents and parents and go with them to pagoda. As this is a very good deed, that children should do, so that they will get a lot of merits from the blessing of their elderly. They also have new clothes as gift for their elderly. They also doing charity to the poor. Khmer new year is also a good occasion to visit relatives. In the countryside, people make num ansom, Cambodia sticky rice cake as a ceremony cake and giving away as gift for visitors, whom visited them.
Food Offerings prepared for Monks on Khmer New Year Days at pagoda. All these foods are brought by villagers.
On day three, there is bathing the Buddha statues ceremony. They can join the ceremony at the pagoda or bath for their Buddha statue at home. This is to clean away all the dusts which are believed as bad things and asking for good things indeed when the Buddha statue are cleaned with perfume water. At home young people also bath for their grandparents, parents. This is for the deeds of parents which deserve the children gratitude.