Water and Moon Festival (Bon Om Tuk, Bondet Protit, Sam Peah Preah Khae)

Posted by IntoCambodia Team on 12 November 2017
The kingdom of Cambodia has a wealth of traditional and cultural festivals dated according to the Cambodian lunar calendar.  All these festival are influenced by the concept of Buddhism, Hinduism, and royal cultures. The festivals, which serves as a source of great joy, merriment and Cambodian’s national colors, play a major role in influencing tourists’ opinions, behaviors, and options. Most of these are a time of replacing the predominantly urban and rural populace.
Water and Moon Festival (Bon Om Tuk, Bondet Protit, Sam Peah Preah Khae)

Nowadays the whole nation unites in understanding its cultural values and traditions. Hereafter is some of the important celebrations organized during the year. The Water and Moon Festival, a spectacle to behold, is probably the most exorbitant festival held each year in November. It is usually celebrated for three days, i.e. the 14th and 15th of the waxing moon and the 1st of the waning moon of the month of Kadek. The 15h of the waning moon is the last full moon day.

The festival ushers in the fishing season, the water of the Mekong River forces the Tonlé Sap and the ebbing-water season and is seen as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for the country with fertile land and abundant fish. At the height of rainy season, the water of the Mekong river forces the Tonle Sap to reverse its currents and to flow up to the Tonle Sap Lake. As the water of the Mekong River begins to subside, the swollen Tonle Sap Lake flows back to the Mekong River through the Tonle Sap and empties into the sea, which leaves behind vast quantities of fish. This, indeed, is a remarkable phenomenon of the Tonle Sap.

The Water Festival dates back to the reign of Jayavarman VII. During the year 1177, the Cham had invaded and controlled Cambodia for about four years. In the meantime, Jayavarman VII united the nation and spent time preparing the army strategy to fight against the Cham until received the victory, and he ascended to the throne of the country in 1181 and made the nation prosper to the highest level. The history here is why Cambodians celebrate the festival to commemorate the strong resistance of Khmer Navy who liberated the territory from the oppression of the enemy (the Cham). The festival has received popular support from all over the country and celebrated annually with the female/male racing boats (Tuk Om and Tuk Jev), Bandaet Pratit (beginning around 7pm with illuminated boats takings to the water. Each boat represents a government ministry or state institution), Ak Ambok (is named after the rice dish which forms part if the Bon Om Tuk ceremony. Rice is fried in the husk and then pounded with giant pestle. The husks are removed and the special rice mixed with coconut and banana. This traditional Khmer dish is sold throughout the festival), Sampeah Preah Khae (is a ceremony in which salutations are made to the moon. After the Sampeah Preah Khae ceremony people gather at a pagoda at midnight for Ak Ambok), and reflecting the strong religious convictions. During this occasion, many people from some provinces and cities took the boat to race to victory for their province.

According to historical records and inscriptions expressed that Jayavarman VII ascended to the throne in the capital of in Yasodharapura and reconstructed the national reconstruction such as the construction of temples, hospitals, roads, and irrigation systems throughout the country. Through the sculpture at Bayon temple, four facades of the four-pronged towers have been found in every corner, making some national and international scholars understand that “Bayon is the legend’s monument of the marvelous legendary”. On the walls of the temple, there are carvings related to the people’s lifestyle, customs, traditions, religions, and arts, sports, especially the war with Chams, led by the Jayavarman VII, gained a great success through the naval fighter. What is remarkable is that the navy battle, which is very beautiful and impressive carved on the wall. The naval carving was remembered by the younger Khmer generations on the attributing of ancient ancestors, which liberated the territories from the control of the enemy and held this year’s annual commemorative ceremony. The Festival has been held since the age of Angkor, and Cambodian people always hold the Festival along with all kind of boat racing, both men, and women from all over the country.

As for the Khmer Kampuchea Krom, although nowadays, have been far away from us (living in the south of Vietnam), they still maintain the Khmer traditional and always celebrate the Festival every year, never missed.  

Every year, Khmer Kampuchea Krom in Khleang Province celebrated this event to commemorate the demise of the Khmer army of the Great Empire, which triumphed from the Cham during the reign of Jayavarman VII and organized the nation to prosper at the highest level.

According to the research paper on “Music and Life of Ms. Keo Narom”, stated that the tribal king (Sdech Tranh) at Bassac district, Kampuchea Krom, organized the army into three groups to protect its geography, are:

1.      An army force to practice with the boat

2.      A Backup army force to practice with the boat (Tuk Jev)

3.      Bassac troops are the ark with a roof (a shape like the roof of Khmer house) and front wall-less for carrying military supplies. The training of this warrior boat, the tribal king in Kampuchea Krom always train his officials to do boat racing competition on the 15th waxing moon, Kadek, by bringing the soldiers and navies to conduct the exercise one day one night each year and become a significant tradition for the Khmers.    

At the ceremony, there is a floating lantern (Bandet Protit) for dedicated to the God of River and God of Earth that joyfulness and fruitfulness in daily-life farming. At night, each ministry is floating its illumination boat (Bandet Protit) and firing the fireworks. While, Ak Ambok and Sam Peah Preah Khae ceremony was performed by Khmer people to commemorate the Bodhisattvas, who took birth as a rabbit and scarifying life to Brahmin. 

- Sopha, M. (2015, November 24). History and Meaning of Water and Moon Festival. Thmey Thmey News. Retrieved from https://thmeythmey.com/?page=detail&ctype=article&id=33411&lg=kh