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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ode to water wizards

Ode to water wizards

As traditional Khmer music, Pleng Pin Peath, drifts melodically from the lead boat,

villagers and monks head off from the Svay Chrum pagoda on the banks of the Mekong

River north of Phnom Penh to a nearby lake to offer food to the resident spirit,

Doun Sar (Grandma Sar).

The annual Leng Tuk (boat play) ceremony begins after the end of Pchum Ben when

monks lead prayers to thank the spirits of Boeung Kach Lake.

A small bamboo bed is tied to a branch of an im-mersed tree in the middle of the

lake, where the villagers and monks believe Doun Sar resides.

Hundreds of monks and around 2,000 people gather and then pray three times as

they make their way around the spirit's house before laying down gifts. Non Ansam

and Non Kom (traditional cakes), fruit and other food such as rice are put on the

small bamboo bed as incense is lit to call to all the spirits who look after the


A golden flotilla of canoes carrying monks and villagers heads for the centre of Boeng Kach Lake to take part in the annual ceremony.

Head Svay Chrum monk, Lon Sokunthea, sits on the first boat under a large yellow

umbrella and speaks through a microphone to remind everyone of the kindness and favors

the spirits, such as Doun Sar, Doun Khieu (Grandma Khieu), Doun Khmao (Grandma Khmao)

and Lok Ta Kro Hum Kor (Grandpa Red Neck) have done for them.

"You grant us favors. We never forget your kindness as you provided us with

good crops last year and we hope this year you will do the same," he says on

behalf of the villagers to the water spirits.

One of the villagers, Suon Sambath, 52, kneels down in front of the spirit bed on

his boat, lights incense and offers some food. In a delicate whisper he says, "Please,

Doun Sar and the other spirits who look after this lake and who always look after

us, come and have food from our offering."

Other villagers also pay homage to the spirits. The Pleng Pin Peath - which includes

the sounds of drums, brass, woodwinds, strings, and xylophones-continues to play

until the villagers finish praying. The villagers offer food to the monks as they

stay on the boats and enjoy their lunch under the sweltering sun. It's 33 degrees


Sambath, as well as many other villagers, come with their families and friends to

offer food to the spirits and the monks.

"What we do is thank the lake spirits who bring us harmony in our lives,"

he says as he enjoys his lunch on the boat near the spirit tree under a small palm

tree's shadow. "One thing we want to do is to follow our cultural [traditions]

and make sure this continues."

Monks and villagers believe that Daun Sar and the other spirits provide them with

good crops, by avoiding destruction by insects or mice or other disasters during

the rice growing season. They believe the spirits protect them and maintain the well-being

of their and their animals' health.

After lunch, the games begin. Music thumps from cassette players and loudspeakers,

and dancing gets under way.

Suon Sambath places an offering on the lake altar.

The spirits appeased, villagers and monks alike take to dousing each other with water.

Armed with buckets and water bottles everyone gets a bit of a good-natured soaking.

The head monk allows his flock to join in the frivolity and tells his novices not

to worry about Buddhist principles because this is a traditional Khmer ceremony.

"This day is a very happy one and we can not abandon it. And I hope the next

generation will continue the [tradition]," said Sambath.




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