Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat in Cambodia
the world's largest religious monument built in the 12th century
now a world heritage site
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Sampaeh Preah Khae & Ork Ambok

Paying Homage to the Moon & Eating Rice Flakes
During the Water Festival

 

 As a tradition, an annual festival called ‘Sampaeh Preah Khae &  Ork Ambok’ or ‘Paying Homage to the Moon & Eating Rice Flakes’ takes place during ‘Chenh Voahsaa(1)’ (a Buddhist event) on the full moon day in November.  This ceremony coincides with the Bon Um Touk’ or ‘Water festival’ which is the biggest annual festival in Cambodia. 

According to a Buddhist tale, this ceremony has its origin in the story of the Buddha’s early life when he was re-incarnated into various forms in order to achieve enlightenment. Having been through many life cycles, his final life before achieving his enlightenment, took the form of a rabbit. 

On full moon day during November, in order to reach the state of enlightenment, the Buddha rabbit made known to all that he was prepared to sacrifice his meat as an offering to anyone who wanted it. This intention was heard by God. So, to help speed up the process for the Buddha, God disguised himself as an old Brahman (Hindu’s highest caste) and went to the Buddha rabbit to ask if he could have his meat for a meal. Without hesitation, the Buddha rabbit agreed to give himself to the old Brahman who then told him that, having dedicated his life to good precepts (rule of morals), he could not take any life. Upon hearing this, the Buddha rabbit asked the old Brahman to make a bonfire. When the fire was burning strongly, the Buddha rabbit jumped into it so the old Brahman could eat his cooked meat. 

However, before jumping into the fire, the Buddha rabbit made his last wish that his rabbit form would be imprinted on the moon as a remembrance of his last life before enlightenment. God heard his prayer and granted him his wish. This is why a picture of a rabbit can still be seen during the full moon night. 

To celebrate the occasion of Buddha’s enlightenment, the Khmer people traditionally gather at pagodas all around the county to worship and pay homage to the moon at the same time every year – the full moon in November. As a thanksgiving for their livelihood, they pick the just ripe sticky rice from the field; dry-fry it; pound it ; winnow away the husks; and offer the resultant rice flakes to the moon together with all the rabbit’s favourite food such as bananas and coconut. After midnight, everyone enjoys sharing and eating the rice flakes, bananas and coconut amongst friends and family. In some parts of Cambodia which we call srok chamkaa’or ‘plantation area’ (where farmers do not grow rice – instead they grow other food ingredients such as vegetables, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, bananas, taros, melons, tobacco, etc…), this ceremony would be celebrated in a more elaborate way using the abundant local produce available at that time of year. 

Note: In his book on Khmer customs and traditions, Meach Pon, a Khmer writer, describes this ceremony as an occasion for great fun and flirting amongst young people. Apparently, this ritual originally took place in Takeo province. The making of  ‘ambok’ or ‘rice flakes’ involved the whole community. The rhythm of pounding the rice flakes was accompanied by the sounding of a drum or gong. When it was ready to eat, young women would feed it to young men and ask: ‘Plieng ruh ming plieng?’ or ‘will there be rain or not?’ or ‘plieng ruh reang?’ or ‘rain or dry?(2) 

With their mouths full of rice flakes and bananas, the young men couldn’t answer, so more rice flakes would be fed to them. The girls would then tease them; and they would reciprocate when they had managed to swallow the rice flakes. This would result in jokes, laughter and fun. In a similar fashion to playing games during the Khmer New Year, this is a time when direct physical contact between young women and young men is permitted - which is otherwise traditionally not allowed. Unfortunately, this custom is dying out, and now really only exists in the memories of older people. 

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(1) Chenh voahsaa – time when the Buddhist monks have completed the observance of Lent – which marks the end of  ‘kann voahsaa’ meaning ‘Buddhist Lenten practice’ when, once a year during the rainy season, all Buddhist priests or monks retire to their own temple for the period of Lent. Rodov voahsaa’literally means rainy season.

(2)Cambodia, being an agricultural country, relies on rain to produce rice and other crops. Having enough rain is the backbone of the Khmers’ livelihood in rural areas where the main income is from the produce of their farms. Therefore, rain is never far away from people’s minds.  In addition to paying homage to the moon, this is a time when Khmer people pray for sufficient rain for the coming year.