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Bon Om Touk (Royal Water Festival) Celebration in the Kingdom of Cambodia

2023-11-25
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Summary:In 2023, Cambodia will not suspend celebrating the Water Festival, which will take place for 3 days from November 26–28, 2023. As a major national festival, what is the history and meaning of this festival, and how will the Cambodian people celebrate it?

The Royal Water Festival, Floating Lanterns, and Moon Worship (Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok) in Cambodia is one of the major national festivals of the Khmer tradition, which has a long history, is very popular in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and is generally celebrated in Phnom Penh, the heart of the country.

In recent years, the Water Festival has been suspended for up to three years, with the Royal Government of Cambodia deciding to suspend the Royal Water Festival in all provinces and Phnom Penh in 2020 and 2021 as Cambodia was affected by the COVID-19 crisis. As for 2022, Cambodia is honored to host the 40–41st ASEAN Summit and related meetings from November 8–13. Although the Water Festival was not held in Phnom Penh, 10 other provinces celebrated and attracted thousands of tourists, including Battambang, Pursat, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Svay Rieng, Kandal, and Kampot provinces.

However, in 2023, Cambodia will not suspend celebrating the Water Festival, which will take place for 3 days from November 26–28,  2023. As a major national festival, what is the history and meaning of this festival, and how will the Cambodian people celebrate it? 

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History and Meaning of Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok (The Royal Water Festival, Floating Lanterns, and Moon Worship) 

Usually, this festival is celebrated in October or November for three days, corresponding to the 14 Keit, 15 Keit, and 1 Roaj of Kadhek, the lunar month of each year. The ceremony includes the three major festivals, which are the Water Festival, Floating Lanterns, and Moon Worship.

+ History and meaning of Bon Om Touk (Water Festival)

We observe that the history of the Water Festival has different explanations. Compass would please quote from the book "History of the Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok" of the Nation and International Festival Organizing Committee. The Water Festival is believed to have been celebrated since ancient times. In order to commemorate the heroic example of the Khmer navy led by King Jayavarman VII and the victorious liberation out of the oppression of the enemy (Cham), who invaded and ruled Cambodia for 4 years (AD 1177–1181), there is evidence of war progress at that time carved on the walls of Bayon Temple and Banteay Chhmar Temple with a huge army of carvings and a portrait of King Jayavarman VII. He stood on the position of the warship with his bow and his stick vigorously among the navy.

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+ History and meaning of Bandaet Pratip (Lantern Floating Festival)

The Bandaet Pratip Ceremony has a close history with Buddhism and is also influenced by the Hindu religion of performing rituals by lighting incense candles to worship the god. Lantern Floating Ceremony, according to ancient Khmer, is an expression of gratitude to the Ganges for providing water for irrigating rice fields and gardens.

According to Buddhists, the ceremony was held to pay homage to the feet of Samma Samputa, who was enshrined at Stung Nam Tea. Looking at the history of this ceremony with archaeologists, Im Sokrithy, an archaeologist at the APSARA Authority, explained that the Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok, which we see as different, are actually the same thing, and there is only one direction. According to the professor, this ceremony is related to nature because it is done in connection with farming.

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History and meaning of the Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok festival (Moon Worship)

The traditional festivals of the Sampeah Preah Khae and Ak Ambok festival, which are celebrated in Cambodian society, have a history closely related to the history of the Buddha and were made by the Khmer people to commemorate the bodhisattva who was born as a bodhisattva rabbit and sacrifice the age of Sangkha to the Brahmin who the Indra had pretended to be, in order to fulfill the merit.

By the power of the bodhisattva's merit and the prayers of Indra, the image of the rabbit is still in the center of the moon to this day, and everyone sees the image of the rabbit clearly on the day 15 Keit. The locals hold this festival every year to commemorate the bodhisattva in the pagodas, villages, districts, and towns with bananas, coconut water, and fruit. Therefore, the Buddhist story about this bodhisattva rabbit became a strong belief for the Khmer people, who then organized a moon worship ceremony.

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Water Festival Celebration in Cambodia

The Royal Water Festival, Floating Lanterns, and Moon Worship are different from other national festivals in that when there is a holiday, people will travel to their hometowns to reunite with their families, but for the Water Festival, people from all over the country come to visit Phnom Penh, especially in front of the Royal Palace, where there is a boat racing venue as well as supporting boats representing their provinces or districts.

The Water Festival is in front of the Royal Palace for 3 days. The first day is the opening day of the Royal Boat Race, which places two royal boats at the Tiprat (finish line) at 11:00 a.m. as the start of the boat race, with hundreds of boats from 25 provinces and cities across Cambodia competing for this victory.

After the boat race ended in the evening, large lanterns will float at 6:00 pm, with lanterns representing national ministries and private institutions in attendance to pray for peace from the "Goddess Ganga" and Blessings from the Dragons.

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The second day after the end of the lantern floating at 9:00 pm, they have a Moon worship ceremony until 12:00 midnight; in honor of the moon worship, hundreds of people will walk with their colorful lanterns to show off under the beautiful full moon.

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The last day of the boat race will end at 5:00 pm with the cutting ribbon ceremony for all the boat races, and the ribbon will be prepared to end the Water Festival.


Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok in 2023

The festival will last for three days, November 26, 27, and 28, 2023. This year, a total of 338 boats will compete, and 30 Pratip (big lanterns) will also appear in the ceremony. This year, the Phnom Penh Capital Administration also presented the organization of entertainment venues, including concerts, Kun Khmer boxing programs, and stalls selling products or goods in Koh Pich city, Daun Penh, and Chbar Ampov district.

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Meanwhile, Siem Reap province, the historical province of Cambodia, also organized the Royal Water Festival, floating lanterns, and moon worship for 2 days from November 26–27, 2023, to contribute to the preservation and promotion of culture, civilization, customs, and traditions, as well as to provide opportunities for people, including national and international tourists, to join the fun along the Siem Reap River from the old Department of Tourism bridge to the Wat Damnak bridge. 

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Overall, even though the Royal Water Festival, Floating Lanterns, and Moon Worship (Bon Om Touk, Bandaet Pratip, and Sampeah Preah Khae, Ak Ambok) have been held since ancient times, the Cambodian people will continue to abide by the ancient rules as well as preserve the legacy for future generations.

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Disclaimer: The re-forward articles on Compass website are for the purpose of conveying more information, and it does not mean that the Compass website agrees with its views or confirms the authenticity of its content. Article noted as "Source: Compass original", please note that the source from Compass. The content of the article is for reference only and should not consider as investment advice, and it does not mean that Compass agree with its views.

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