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Sraung Preah ceremony: Is misunderstanding mainstream?


Sraung Preah, a Buddhist ceremony of purification by water, falls over Khmer New Year.

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It's a popular tradition over the holiday along with taking food to the pagoda and playing games.

Nhean Phoun, a consultant for the Ministry of Cult and Religion, noted that although youth participation in the tradition remains strong, young Cambodians seem confused over the meaning of the ceremony.
He said that celebrating at the pagoda just ins't enough.

“Parents are the one who give birth to and feed the child, so this celebration shows the child's gratitude to the parent,” Nhean Phoun said.

To promote an understanding of Sraung Preah, Nhean Phoun said, the Ministry of Cult and Religion is trying to draw the attention of young Cambodians to the ceremony.

Now, the Ministry is disseminating information through national media and will be at various pagodas to provide education on the ceremony.

“We are trying to educate Cambodian youths about the Sraung Preah celebration” Nhean Phoun said.

According to ancient documents belong to the Puthisasanak Bondith, Sraung Preah began when a king had his followers build a prayer hall on the riverfront in reverence to Buddha. After receiving Buddha??'s blessings, the king asked Buddha what he should do as a good deed for the New Year. Buddha replied that if children purify their parents with water, then their name would be inscribed on a golden scroll. The scroll would give them the merits of nobility.

And the ceremony of Sraung Preah began.

Sraung Preah is held on the third day of Khmer New Year - known as Thgay Leung Saka. People believe that when they purify Buddha statues with water, they will receive prosperity and dignity in return for the act. Children believe that if they do the same to their parents, they will receive happiness, longevity and good advice in return.

Chan Sreymom, a third-year student at a fine arts school, said that although she used to purify her grandmother with water during ceremony, she did not know the meaning behind it.

“I just imitated my parents,” she added.

Thong Sothavrath, a fourth-year student at Preah Sisowath High School, said that although she is unclear as to the meaning of Sraung Preah, she feels obligated to purify her parents during the ceremony.

“If I don't [purify] my parents, I will regret it for the rest of my life,” she said.

Sam Khanda, a 48-year-old housewife, said that her family always carries out the Sraung Preah ceremony. She believes that parents play a crucial role in guiding their children's understanding of the ceremony, and that they must continue to educate their children on Sraung Preah so it isn't lost.

“Some youth practise the ceremony well and can fulfil their parents' hopes,” she said, “while others are too mainstreamed by foreign culture and just do it for fun... splashing water on each other.”

Sam Khanda explained that during the ceremony, the children must kneel down and press their hands together to show respect for their parents.  

With this act of humility, children express apologies for anything they may have done wrong over the previous year.

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