Cambodians [in Melbourne, Australia] ring in 2554 (BE)

Monday, April 19, 2010

April 19, 2010
The Age (Australia)

The Khmer new year is a time to celebrate family and remember ancestors.

THE grounds of Wat Buddharangsi yesterday resembled a boisterous village fair rather than the oasis of serene contemplation you might expect of a Buddhist monastery.

Children chased each other noisily as adults played games - tug-o-war, petanque and Chinese chess - or perused stalls selling Cambodian magazines and DVDs, toys and prints of scenes from home.

In a small pagoda next to the main temple, devotees hoping for good fortune planted incense sticks in mounds of sand.

Drums, bells, Buddhist chants and Cambodian pop songs over a booming PA took turns to assault the ears of anyone within two suburbs.

Inside the temple, hundreds of people in brocade and tuille Sunday best sat shoulder-to-shoulder on multi-coloured mats, food and shoes set aside.

It might have been a rehearsal for an enormous communal picnic except that most sat with hands in the universal pose of prayer, chanting in response to 15 golden-robed monks on a dais in front of them.

The occasion was Maha Sangkran, the start of the Cambodian new year.

Three days of activities ended yesterday as members of Melbourne's Cambodian Buddhist community descended on the wat to celebrate the start of year 2554 BE (Buddhist Era).

Venerable Sambath Sam, a monk at Wat Buddharangsi for the past 10 years, says new year festivities are a time of family reunion and great celebration in Cambodia, a practice maintained in Melbourne's Khmer community.

Traditionally, he said, people return to their birth village to visit family and friends at this time of year.

They give food, clothes and money to their parents, which are then offered to the local temple to help provide for the monks.

Venerable Sambath - who was a teacher, interpreter, social worker and tram conductor before becoming a monk - says Sangkran is also a time for people to pay respects to their departed ancestors, to beg forgiveness from their parents and elders for misdeeds, and to remember the teachings of the Buddha.

''They must learn about wholesome deeds,'' he says.

''The good actions towards others will help you be reborn into a better life.''

Although some Cambodians fear cultural traditions are dying out among the next generation growing up in their adopted country, many younger Cambodians make the effort to embrace the old ways.

Jimmy You, who left Cambodia when he was five, comes to the new year festivities every year.

He admits there were years when his parents had to force him to come along.

However he says that now, in his late 20s, he sees the need to pass on the traditions to the next generation.

''The older generation comes here to pay their respects to their ancestors,'' he says.

''We have to understand why they're doing that because if we don't, when they're gone, who's going to do that for them?''


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