April 13: A Buddhist Day of Celebration By Sok San
I think everybody knows and understands 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 these three questions:
What is the time concept of the Khmer people?
When did we start to use it?
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 other 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 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 travelled 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.