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:
- 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:
the 13th is Not a BUDDHIST DAY of celebration!
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
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
The Khmer people have adopted two kinds
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
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 didnt
count the Year number one, two, three like the Indian way.
2) Where did all of these names come
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
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
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:
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:
month: Mika-Se, or Mika-Se Rksa or Rksa Kdann (Deer) = 29
month: Bos or bos-Rksa or Rksa Kda:m (CRAB) = 30 days
month: Meak or Meak-Rksa or Rksa Svar Pream (Monkey) = 29
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
We count these months like this:
(Read Mak-ka-Ra) = 30 days (January) Makar-Reasei = 31 days
(Read: Kom-Pheak) 28 or 29 days (February) KomPheak-Reasei
(Ka-a:m = Clay Pot used mainly to carry and store water
= 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.
names used for these months are from Sanskrit words.
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.
day = ADITYA (Read: Atit) Sunday - Sun Color KRAHAM HKCHEI
or KRAHAM CHHAS (Dark red or light red)
day = CHANDA (Read: Chant) Monday - Moon Color LOEUNG TUM
(Orange or Yellow-Orange)
day = ANGARA (Read: Ankear) Tuesday - Mars Color SVAY (Purple,
day = BUDH (Read: Put) Wednesday - Mercury Color SILEAP
day = BRAHASPTI (Read: Prahos) Thursday - Jupiter Color
TROUY CHEK-BAI-TANG KHCHEI (Green or Light Green)
day = SOKRA (Read: Sok) Friday - Venus Color = KHIEV (Blue
or Dark Blue)
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
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.
·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
·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).
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 30s, 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.