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Cambodian Buddhists in Rhode Island Observe Traditional Khmer New Year

Members of the Nearyroth Academy of Arts perform the Flower Blessing Dance at Dhamagosnaram Buddhist Temple. From
Members of the Nearyroth Academy of Arts perform the Flower Blessing Dance at Dhamagosnaram Buddhist Temple. From

Coinciding with local Christian celebrations for Easter, Buddhists from the Cambodian community in the US state of Rhode Island gathered on 21 April to observe Lunar New Year festivities in the Oakland Beach neighborhood of the city of Warwick, offering prayers and performing traditional dances.

The Providence Journal reported that Cambodian Buddhists converged on Dhamagosnaram Buddhist Temple to mark the Khmer New Year by offering incense and prayers for forgiveness and protection, accompanied by food and cultural events, such as the Flower Blessing Dance by performers from the Nearyroth Academy of Arts in Lowell, Massachusetts.

“You just take the incense, light it and stick it in this mountain of sand,” said temple secretary Sarath Say. “Then you pray and place your own cup of sand in there. This represents your sins going up to Heaven for forgiveness.” (Providence Journal)

Sarath added: “Also, in the next year, any person who wants bad for you will have to count all the grains of sand to get there.” (Providence Journal)

The traditional Khmer New Year, also known as Chol Chnam Thmey, is one of the most important events in the Cambodian calendar. Usually falling on or around 13 April, it is celebrated over three days and marks the end of the traditional harvest season. In Cambodia, April represents a welcome break from toil and a period of leisure for farmers who have been working hard all year.

Buddhist monks at the Dhamagosnaram Buddhist Temple in Cranston bless community members who bring them food during Sunday’s New Year celebration.
Community members at Dhamagosnaram Temple offer
food and receive blessings from Buddhist monks.

Cambodians celebrate the day with family and friends by visiting temples and playing traditional games. As a part of the observances, temple entrances are garlanded with coconut leaves and flowers, and courtyards become playgrounds for traditional Khmer games.

“This celebration means community and unity and is when family comes together for the love of the Buddha and ourselves,” said local resident Chanda Kun, recalling New Year celebrations from his childhood. “Playing those games, watching the dances, getting your blessings from the monk. It’s always good to have those memories moving forward.” (Providence Journal)

Venerable Piseth Sek, monk and assistant treasurer of Dhamagosnaram Temple, noted that one of the main purposes of the festivities is to reunite the community, as well as providing an opportunity for congregants to remember their ancestors and relatives through good deeds and to make themselves more deserving of blessings.

“When I was 10 I used to get so excited when I knew this was coming,” said Ven. Sek, who became monk at age 12. “I would go to the temple back home and just enjoy the dancing and play games with other children.” (Providence Journal)

“You are not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, lie or drink [intoxicants],” Ven. Sek added. “New Year’s for us is to enjoy life and to remember that in the coming year we need to be good.” (Providence Journal)

See more 

Celebrations by R.I. Christians, Buddhists with common theme: forgiveness and food (Providence Journal)
Khmer New Year 2019: Know Date, Significance and Celebrations of Cambodian New Year (The Cambodia Daily)
Forgiveness is the real message of Easter (Asia Times)

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