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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Duty marks advent of Chol Vosa

Duty marks advent of Chol Vosa

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A monk sits inside Wat Lanka on Tuesday in Phnom Penh, ahead of the beginning of the three-month-long Chol Vosa festival.

Buddhists in Cambodia mark the three-month-long festival with gifts of candles and other offerings to monks to ease the burden of collecting alms during the difficult rainy season.

TODAY marks the beginning of the traditional Khmer festival Chol Vosa, a three-month period during which monks do not leave their pagoda to collect alms.

The holiday is associated with the Vosa, a large candle that is supposed to last the duration of the festival, Tip Sao, a 27-year-old monk, said on Tuesday.

"People buy the Vosa candle and offer it to the monks so they will have light when they pray to the Buddha, he said.

Im Borin, a researcher for the National Committee of Khmer Customs and Horoscopes at the Ministry of Cults and Religions, said that the Buddhist holiday has been celebrated for many years and that it is meant to show respect to the monks and make their lives easier.

Most of the year, monks collect money and food from their community, but during these three months when it rains the hardest, they stay in their pagoda.

Im Borin said the festival's origins reflect Buddhists' compassion for their local monks.

"One day, the people saw the monks walking everywhere to collect alms, and they saw how difficult it was for them to do," he explained.

"When the people saw their difficulty, they had the idea to stop the monks from walking around and collecting alms during the rainy season," he said.

"For three months, all monks have to stay in the pagoda to wait for food to be offered to them," he said.

An adviser to the Mores and Customs Commission, Miech Ponn, said that the tradition of handing out Vosa candles is a way to honour not just the monks but also one's religion.

"Vosa candles have a good meaning for Buddhists because it shows real respect to their religion. We have to do it every year," he said.

Good luck
Miech Ponn said that the longer the candles burn, the greater the fortunes for the pagoda housing it and the community that supports it.

"If the candle burns for a whole festival - three months - it means there will be good fortune for that pagoda and the Buddhists because they can take care of the candle fire for a long time," he said.

Tip Sao, however, admitted that most pagodas need more than a single candle to last through the festival.

"Each pagoda has at least two Vosa candles for the Chol Vosa festival," he said.

Solemn duty
San Leng, 65, who bought four candles at the Russian Market as well as noodles and cakes, said she buys supplies for the monks every year and that it is something all Buddhists should do.

"It is my duty and the duty of others who respect Buddhism," she said.

Tip Sao, however, said that not all pagodas receive Vosa candles because some areas are very poor.

"At the isolated pagodas, monks don't have Vosa candles to burn because the Buddhists don't have enough money to buy them for the monks," he said, adding that it was not necessary for all pagodas.

Researcher Im Borin said that in the past, Buddhists in Cambodia had to get creative to obtain candles for the festival.

"Before we could buy candles to use [for the festival], Cambodian people had to make their own. They did not own many candles themselves, and did not have the money to purchase them," he said.

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