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2014-04-21

THE ORIGIN OF KHMER NEW YEAR

It’s APRIL.

What, why? What’s special about April, you ask me.

Of course, April is the month where new year starts.

Wait, wait. Why April? Couldn’t it be logical for new year to fall on January which is the first month of the year?

Yes, this is perfectly logical. However this is the Gregorian calendar we are using. It’s pretty popular wide world I say, with many countries adopting it.
You see, before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, most countries had their own calendar system in which their new years are based on.

You may be surprise to learn that there are so many countries with their New Year falling on February, March, April, June and November.

Back to April. This is a definitely happy time of the month for Cambodian, Thai, Laotian people where the old crankies….I mean, the well-respected elderly people, go to the temple to make merits. Young horny guys go to the temple to flirt with women shamelessly. Young brats go to the temples to frolick and dance around. I hope I am painting a happy picture because it is.

From my knowledge or what’s left of it, New Year celebration in Cambodia, Thailand & Laos generally last for three days. There’s different version of the New Year based on those three countries.

I cannot speak for Thailand and Laos because I might unwittingly insult the readers from these countries.
To Cambodian readers, please don’t stone me if I do make some error.

The first day is known as “Moha Songkran មហាសង្រ្កាន្ត” , the second day as “Virak Vannabat 
វិរ:វ័នបត” and the last day as “Virak Lerng Sak វិរៈឡើងស័ក”.

Usually on the first day, most people prepare their offerings to welcome the new angel to their house (usually the day before) and visit their local temple to make merits.

The following day, people are encouraged to donate and help the poor and unfortunate people. I think that’s a very good idea, credit to whoever came up with that. We need more of that as nowadays, no one really cares for the unfortunate downtrodden people.

Anyway, the last day consist of cleaning the elders and Buddha statues with water, in a sense to drive away the bad vibe and bring happiness in.

During the three days, people will be drunk senselessly, kids playing games that look suspiciously like gambling, and elderly people fervently trying to make more merits for their next life.  

Every year, we have a pretty angel who arrives on the first day. This angel will bless us wretched people to ensure we don’t accidentally die or something. Oh and she gets to stay to babysit us for the whole year until the next new year then she can go back home with another angel taking her place. Pretty tough thankless job so I think we owe them angels with a big celebration.

How did it started? Well no one knows. So our ancient forebears made it up and labelled it as a folk tale.

It all began with a smart arse boy in ancient times. And so our epic tale began….               

This boy who goes by the name of Thammabal, was damn smart. Smart to the point he can understand what birds are chittering about. I suspect birds were talking shit about people the whole time and plotting when to shit on unsuspecting ones….those cheeky feathered bastards.

He attracted young and mature ladies alike with his intelligence. Suffice to say, he was pretty popular.

Unfortunately for the young lad, someone’s jealous to the point that he couldn’t take it anymore. I guess Kabel Moha Prom didn’t get adoration or attention of any sort, the poor bloke. He’s the king of the gods, so who can blame him, used to being lavished with admirations of young virgins.  

Filled with petty anger, Kabel Moha Prom descended down from the heavens to challenge Thammabal to a riddle. A riddle with deadly consequence not for the God King, but for the mortal Thammabal if he lost. A bit tad unfair if you asked me.
The loser will be decapitated and the winner, well you know, his head is still attached to his shoulders.

The riddle goes like this – “What is happiness in the morning, midday and night?”

The timeframe agreed upon was a week, or seven days.

So the poor young sod spent six days being scared in a forest of nowhere, possibly deeply regretting the bad choice he made in hindsight.

The vultures were chatting about Thammabal, unwittingly not knowing that Thammabal can understand the language of birds.  

Said one hungry male vulture to a female vulture that they are going to feast upon Thammabal’s dead corpse for tomorrow’s course because the unfortunate bastard couldn’t find an answer..
I guess they observed him wandering around the forest for six days and couldn’t really disagree on that.

The female vulture curiously asked the male vulture about the answer to the riddle.
The answer was pretty simple yet unexpected. Happiness shined on the face after washing it in the morning. Happiness is felt by the body after being washed during the hot sweating midday. Before going to bed at night, feet/legs are washed to feel happiness.

So on the last day, Thammabal returned to Kabal Maha Prom, heavily betting his life that the answer was correct.
Turn outs to be correct.

So luckily for Thammabal, the God King is a man of his word despite jealousy and promptly decapitated his own head off. I guess in those olden days, bets are pretty tough.

However there’s one tiny thing being overlooked. You see, Kabal Maha Prom was pretty much responsible for orchestrating rituals for every new year, bestowing prosperity, happiness and good luck upon the population. Being bodyless, I can imagine it’s pretty tough for the God King to go around doing that.

So he had his extremely beautiful seven daughters to take turns in carrying his head on a golden tray called Jerng Pean around Mount Sumeru, the home of the Gods, every time a new year arrived. If it wasn’t for the golden tray and his daughters, his head alone can demolish the world in flames if dropped from the heavens to the earth.  

Each daughter are assigned to a particular day on which she has to descend down from the heavens to the earth to fly around Mount Sumeru while holding Jerng Pean with her father’s head, doing her father’s blessing duties before going back.

Starting Sunday ending in Saturday, the seven daughters went by the names of Tungsar Tevi, Koreak TeviReak'sa Tevi, Mon'Tea Tevi, Keriney Tevi, Ke'mirea Tevi and Mohor'ta'rea Tevi respectively.

They are a picky bunch of eaters with strange eating habits. Like us human beings, I admit.

Why is that important to know about their eating habits? Well, we can appease her while preparing our offerings in order to receive her blessings upon her arrival on Moha Songkran, so it pays to know her likes so we don’t end up being cursed.

Tungsar Thep (ទុង្សទេវីlikes eating fig fruit, rides on a badass man-eating bird called Garuda and carries disc of power and seashell.
As for Koreak Tevi (គោរាគទេវី), she drinks oil, rides on a ferocious tiger while carrying a sword and a cane.
Reak'sa Tevi (រាគ្យសាទេវី) craves blood, rides a horse and carries trident and a bow.
Mon'Tea Tevi (មណ្ឌាទេវី) looks like a mild gentle sort as she likes a nice cup of milk while riding a donkey with a needle and cane in her hands. I don’t know what’s up with canes but let’s continue.
Keriney Tevi (កិរិណីទេវី)likes nibbling on sesame seeds and beans. She rides an almighty elephant while holding a harpoon and a…what? A gun? Do they have guns in ancient times? Man, these angels are a bunch of badass sort we wouldn’t want to mess with.
Ke'mirea Tevi (កិមិរាទេវី) prefers bananas. She sit on the back of a water buffalo, singing with her instrument called Mandolin and a sword at bay. There must be endless supply of beasts and bandits to deal with in ancient times, I reckon.
And so we have come to the last angel, being Mohor'ta'rea Tevi (មហោទរាទេវី). She dines on deer meat. Grilled, baked, steamed, I’m not sure. She comes in an elegant style, riding a big peacock with a disc of power and trident.

Here’s a family photo of those beautiful ladies.


Summing it up, it depends on the date of the first day that one of the seven daughters will be chosen. 

Thus conclude the tale of the New Year’s origin….so when the new year comes, you can be sure to surprise the hell out of your Cambodian friends by telling them the name of the exact angel based on the date of Moha Songkran.

By a Cambodian reader

P.S: This article will be updated soon in order to accommodate all related cultures such as Thai and Laotian version. We apologize for the inconvenience. 

2 comments:

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Chhaly Samsokrith said...

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