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April 13: a Buddhist Day of Celebration

By Sok San

I think everybody know and understand about the date of the Khmer New Year but many people do not know why we take the 13th, 14th, and 15th of April as the beginning of the New Year.

This is not a very hard question to answer if we answer this three questions:

  1. What is the time concept of the Khmer people?
  2. When did we start to use it?
  3. How do we count time?

Before I talk about these things, I would like to mention that:

  • April the 13th is Not a BUDDHIST DAY of celebration!
  • Khmer New Year is not a religious or Buddhist celebration (Bon Put SaS-NA), even though, most Khmer people go to the pagoda at that time and give food to the monk, do Poun Phnom Ksach ceremony, etc. All of these do not mean that Khmer New Year is a Buddhist celebration.

There is a big difference between a traditional ceremony and a religious ceremony or a Buddhist ceremony. Some traditional ceremonies are religious ceremonies also but not all are religious, as in the case of the Khmer New Year.

The Khmer New Year is:

  • A traditional ceremony (Bon Prapei-Ney) or
  • A national ceremony (Bon Cheat or bon Prapei-Ney Cheat)

Now to go back to our questions:

1)What is the time concept of the Khmer people?

The Khmer people have adopted two kinds of time:

a) The Indian Way

In its full cycle years, there are 10 years. The first year is Chhnam Aek Sak; the second year is Chhnam To Sak, etc and the tenth year is Saing-Rithi-Sak. Last year was the year Saing-Rithi-Sak, which means year zero (not the tenth year). This year is the first year in the 10-full cycle, which is Chhnam Aek Sak (the year number one).

We used this type of years from the early age and continued to use them until today. In the 10 Full Cycle, we used the word Sak (spelled: Sar-Sagn-Yoch-Sagna+Kar). SAK is a Sanskrit word which means year.

b)The Chinese Way

In its Full Cycle years, there are 12 years. This is the 4th year of the twelve cycles. When we combine it, we call Chhnam Thos Aek Sak (the year of the rabbit, number one.)

c)Names of the years represented by pictures of animals

In the 12-Full Cycle years, we usually count Chut, Chlov, Khal, Thos, etc. WE used the animal pictures to represent these names: Rat, Cow, Tiger, etc. We didn’t count the Year number one, two, three like the Indian way.

2) Where did all of these names come from?

Are they Chinese, India, Sanskrit or Pali or are they Khmer word? These names were not Chinese, Sanskrit, Thai, Lao or Khmer words. They belonged to the one minority language in the Mon-Khmer Group at the region of South East Asia (Austro Asiatic Language). Thai, Lao, Khmer pronounced these words similarly and the spelling were kept almost the same way. (The year of the Death of Buddha was Chhnam Ma-Sagn Pagn-Sak = the year of the Snake, number 5).

3) Where did all of these pictures come from?

First, we should understand that the Earth belongs to the Solar System. The solar system is moving across the Milky Way ( in Khmer: Kung Long Damrei Sar = the White elephant Trail).

In twelve years, at our region, we had crossed twelve groups of constellations (stars) with the pictures of the rat, cow, tiger, etc. WE named the year according to the picture of the Zodiac.

This New Year, we must cross in twelve months or in one whole year group of stars (constellation) with pictures of the rabbit. After these groups of stars, we will go to another groups with the picture of the dragon and we call it the year of the dragon ( chhnam rong), etc. We used this type of year from the late Eleventh Century, the time we had a real contact with China and we still use them today.

II. Khmer Concept of Months

WE had adopted two types of months: Chanda Gati and Suriya Gati. The first one was from Pre-Angkorian Era and the second one was started during the late Nineteenth Century or at the beginning of the Twelve Century.

a. Chanda Gati (Read Chan-teak Kakte) = Luna Months. This lunar month is used according to the Moon movement around the earth.

This kind of months used RKSA (read Rik). In Chanda Gati, there are no angels to measure the space traveled by the moon. They only called that space NAKSATRA RKSA (read: Neak-Ksat-Rik).

Rksa means many things: ·Khlar Khmum (bear) ·Svar Angkot (money with short or no tail) ·Pkay Pkrapeu (name of the North Stars) ·Pkay Nubkros (the Nine Planets) ·Pel Mean Chork-Mangkol-Serey (Lucky, Successful Day, etc.)

We count them like this:

  • 1st month: Mika-Se, or Mika-Se Rksa or Rksa Kdann (Deer) = 29 days
  • 2nd month: Bos or bos-Rksa or Rksa Kda:m (CRAB) = 30 days
  • 3rd month: Meak or Meak-Rksa or Rksa Svar Pream (Monkey) = 29 days, etc.

The 5th month: Chaet or Chaet Rksa or Rksa Khlar (Tiger) = 29 days. This month is the starting month of the Khmer New Year. The pictures of these months are from the moon movement with the 29 and 30 days (each month) during its way in Earth rotation. This movement required in some year to be a Leap Year too.

We called it Adhika Vira (Read: Athi Vira). We usually added to that year one month (with 30 days). At that year, there were 384 days (Year with Adhika Msa (Read: Athikak Meas). There were four days called Thnai Van Rot = Middle day or sometimes called the Blind DAY because there are two Thnai Von Rot on that year!).

That day was the 14th of April and not the 13th. The months they like to add are the months of ASADH. The first ASADH is pathamasadh (Read: Pka-Tham-Mea-Sat) and the second ASADH is Dutiyasadha (Read Tu-te-Yea-Sat).

At that year, the beginning of the New Year Celebration is on the month of KHAE BISAKHA (Pik-Sa:K) and not the month of KHAE CHAET!

The names of these months are from Sanskrit words. For the months with 29 days, we call them KOR BEI and the months with 30 days we call them KOR BUON, that mean 14 ROUCH and 15 ROUCH (Kor = to shave the hair on that day, for monks or for Yeay Chi, Ta Chi).

b. Suriya Gati (Read: Sori- Yeak-Kate) = Solar months. These months are used officially and in everyday life, in school, etc. In SURIYA GATI, there 12 angles for measuring the space traveled by the Sun. Each angle is measured in 30 degrees. For all 12 angles, there are 360 degrees or for one RASI CAKRA or one Full Cycle (or One Full Year). They used the word RASI (Read: Rea-Sey) in this kind of months.

RASI means many things: ·Pile ·Bull ·Group ·Section

We count these months like this:

  1. Makra (Read Mak-ka-Ra) = 30 days (January) Makar-Reasei = 31 days
  2. Kumbha (Read: Kom-Pheak) 28 or 29 days (February) KomPheak-Reasei (Ka-a:m = Clay Pot used mainly to carry and store water ), etc
  3. Mesa = 30 days (April) Mesa-Reasei (Goat). Our New Year is at this month. In Khmer way, we say: Wednesday 14 ROUCH the month of CHAET in Chanda Gita way, and Wednesday 14 MEASA is in Suriya Gita way.
  • The names used for these months are from Sanskrit words.
  • The difference words used between Chanda Gita and Suriya Gita are RKSA and RASI

III. Khmer Concept of Days

Before we used to THNGAI MUOY ROUCH or THNGAI MUOY KOEUT, we used RONOUCH and KHNOEUT according to the Chanda Gita (the movement of the moon).

Today, we use the elements of the Solar System to name the days of the week. This kind of counting is the Suriya Gita way.

  • 1st day = ADITYA (Read: Atit) Sunday - Sun Color KRAHAM HKCHEI or KRAHAM CHHAS (Dark red or light red)
  • 2nd day = CHANDA (Read: Chant) Monday - Moon Color LOEUNG TUM (Orange or Yellow-Orange)
  • 3rd day = ANGARA (Read: Ankear) Tuesday - Mars Color SVAY (Purple, Violet, Mauve)
  • 4th day = BUDH (Read: Put) Wednesday - Mercury Color SILEAP (Green-Yellow)
  • 5th day = BRAHASPTI (Read: Prahos) Thursday - Jupiter Color TROUY CHEK-BAI-TANG KHCHEI (Green or Light Green)
  • 6th day = SOKRA (Read: Sok) Friday - Venus Color = KHIEV (Blue or Dark Blue)
  • 7th day = Sao-Sunday-Saturn Color PRING TUM )Color of Jambolan Plum or Crimson)

These days have different powers on the life of the living things on Earth. So everything is done according to these days for the best condition and for the right way.

We must wear clothes according to these days (Seven Colors) in formal way, at the official ceremony, or at the traditional ceremony (especially when we go to see the king at his palace in the old time).

We used the word: BARA (Read: Pear) referring to the word DAYS. BARA or VRA (Sanskrit) = days of the week.

Note

·To symbolize the DATE by Chanda Gati way, we use numbers. Example: Thnai Put 12 Rouch Khae Chaet (Wednesday the 14th day of the waning moon of the month CHAET = the 29th day of the lunar month)

We write like this: 4 + Sagna Khan (Khmer Period Symbol) + 14 placed under that symbol + 2542.

Their meanings are: 4 = Wednesday Sagna Khan = To symboize Knouet or Ronouch 2542 = Buddhist Era

The exact time for this beginning New Year (Sang-Kran Choul) will be on the 14th of April (in the USA) Wedneday at 11:12 AM. ·About the word SANKRANTA (Read: Sang-Kran): SANG-KRAN = the END of the year, Beginning of a New Year, Maha Sang-Kran = Calendar, Almanac. The rule we used to separate the old and the new year is called: KBOUN MAHA SANG-KRAN.

·The way we cont by Chanda Gati (Chanda Gati (Lunar Months is called: AYANTA SANG-KRAN

·There is No Athik Vira at this year = No Leap year for Chanda Gita way. So for this year, we start at the 13th of April (in Cambodia).

CONCLUSION

The problem of the 13th or 14th of April is from the Chanda Gati way of counting. There is irregularity in the Chanda Gati Way. Regularly in Suriya Gati way, there is a Leap Year in every 4 years.

To know what year is the leap year in Suriya Gati ·We divide the number of that year by four. When there is no remainder, that year is the leap year and the month of kumbheak (February) has 29 days.

To know what is the leap year in Chanda Gati ·When there are two months of Asadh (Patam-Sat and Tu- Te-Yea Sat) ·At that year, the New Year celebration will be on the month of Pi-Sa:k.

In the 30’s, there was a problem in changing the Khmer New Year from the month of Chaet to the month of Bos. This was a political issue because the Vietnamese adopted the Chinese ways (Chinese New Year at the end of January). The French colonialist forced the Cambodians people to change it, like the Vietnamese did.