Prime Minister Hun Sen said Buddhism not only provided peace of mind, but also contributed to order and peace in society, development in all sectors and the preservation of the Cambodian national identity.

Hun Sen made the remarks as the Kingdom celebrated Meak Bochea Day, which this year fell on February 16.

Also known internationally as Magha Puja or Lord Buddha Day, Meak Bochea is an important Buddhist festival celebrated on the full moon in the third month of the traditional Khmer calendar, which generally lands it in February or March. It is an occasion when Buddha prophesied his death and where Buddhist followers remember Buddha and his teachings.

National Assembly president Heng Samrin also issued a message expressing the significance of the day, adding that it was also a day to commemorate the death of the Buddha.

“Because we still face Covid-19 we, cannot gather to celebrate the occasion as we did in pre-pandemic times. I am taking this opportunity to call on all compatriots to pay attention to consistently implementing health measures,” the message read.

Kong Sam Ol, chairman of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, said in a letter that an official function was to be held at Phnom Preah Reach-Trop – the ancient capital city of Oudong – in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district.

The letter said the Kandal provincial administration would cooperate with the committee and would decorate the streets with banners celebrating the birth, enlightenment and Nirvana of the Buddha. The administration would also deploy police forces to maintain security and manage traffic around the festival.

Kruy Malen, head of administration at the provincial hall, said on the morning of Meak Bochea that this year’s occasion was little different from the usual celebrations. This year, the ceremony would be presided over by Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection Men Sam An.

He added that the festival service was held according to Buddhist traditions and that about 80 monks had been invited. All participants would practise preventive measures including the three dos and don’ts, he noted.

“We have arranged the seats in a socially distanced manner and will allow them to enter only if they wear masks and wash their hands with alcohol to disinfect against the virus. All of these steps were prepared before the ceremony this morning [February 16],” Malen sid.

Venerable Kou Sopheap said this was the day when the Buddha first introduced 1,250 Arhats, or monks who had achieved enlightenment through his guidance.

“Meak Bochea festival is a special day. It is the day when he convened the first meeting, like an assembly, to proclaim the Buddhist precepts as the common principles of Dharma to help spread the word to Buddhists,” he said.