On a recent trip to Cambodia I was invited to attend the Khmer New Year Ceremony at the Siem Reap campus of Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia. Having never participated in a New Year in Southeast Asia I had no idea what to expect.
The ceremony itself was very interesting and performed entirely in Khmer. First there were speeches by selected students and a contingency of monks about how the university students should be thankful for their parents and grateful for the teachers. To illustrate how thankful they should be to their mothers in particular a National Geographic documentary clip was shown of a woman giving birth as a graphic reminder of what mothers go through. A meditation session followed where the students, who were seated on the ground between their teachers and parents, contemplated their appreciation for their elders
Once the mediation session was complete the student gathered at the feet of their parents and teachers to bow and thank them. In return the teachers and parents sprinkled flower petals distributed by the monks over the heads of the students as a blessing.
There were about 20-25 monks present, all with shaved heads and adorned in orange robes. Personally I have always thought of monks as being steeped in tradition and wisdom. Wise they may very well be, but monks can be as modern as you and I, something I learned just from observing how they performed the Khmer New Year ceremony. They employed the use of not just microphones and speakers but also a laptop, a television, multiple digital cameras, and cell phones. One of the monks also approached me for suggestions regarding his English paper on the disadvantages of rural Cambodian living.
The ceremony finished with the students sending the monks off with offerings of food, a display of traditional dance, and something that resembled the Chinese New Year lion dance in that money was given to a dancing costumed figure for good luck in the year to come. Games, including a pottery piñata filled with flour and something that resembled bocce ball with fruit pits, were followed by a lavish lunch provided by the university. I was seated at a table with a few of the university administrators and enjoyed getting to know some of my professor’s colleagues.
In the afternoon the students put on a food exposition, where various groups had prepared different types of Cambodian food. It was here that I was able to taste two different types of a traditional soup made out of ants.
Khmer New Year was a great opportunity to witness traditional customs in a modern setting and was defiantly one of the highlights of my trip to Cambodia.