Water Festival is the largest annual festival in the Southeast Asian nation. In Cambodia, the festival is usually celebrated for three days from the 14th and 15th of the waxing moon to the 1st of the waning moon of the month of Kadek based on the lunar system.
The ceremony attracts more international tourists and million Cambodians, especially those from rural areas, to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, to enjoy the regatta. Cambodia called off the water festival for three consecutive years because of devastating flood in 2011 and 2013, and the mourning for King-Father Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk in 2012.
The festival marks a change in the flow of the Tonlé Sap. In the rainy season, the water of the Mékong River forces the Tonlé Sap to reverse its current and to flow up to the Tonlé Sap Lake. As the water of the Mékong River begins to subside, the swollen Tonlé Sap Lake flows back to the Mékong River through the Tonlé Sap and empties into the sea, which leaves behind vast quantities of fish. This, indeed, is a remarkable phenomenon of the Tonlé Sap.
The water festival is celebrated every year to honor the victory of Cambodian Naval forces over CHAMPA in the reign of King JayvarmanVII, during Angkor period of the 12th century. The war victory (1177-1181 AD) liberated Cambodia and was inscribed on the bas-relief of the Bayon Temple and the Banteay Chhmar Temple. On the bas-relief there are images of the navy with Preah Bath Jayavarman VII bravely wielding a fighting stick and bow on the royal barge. On the other hand, following the tradition of Brahmanism the water festival is celebrated to express profound thanks to the Gods of Water (Mekong River and Tonle Sap) and Earth for providing the livelihood (bountiful harvest of rice and fish) and welfare for the Cambodian people.
Besides the regatta, the water festival also includes three other ceremonies: Illuminated float (Bondet Pratib), Moon festival (Sampeas Preah Khe) and the eating of pestle new special rice with banana or coconut juice (Ork Ambok) to be held on 15th of the waxing moon of the month of Kadek (2nd day of water festival-full moon day). These ceremonies are closely connected to the legend of Buddha. In the first phrase of Pali scripture of Baromathatibani Atha Katha Chariya Bedak, it is said that the Great Buddha was born on the full moon as Sasa Bandit or “Wise man born in the form of the Rabbit”. Indra decided to transform himself as an old Brahman and begged for Sasa Bandit’s flesh as food. Sasa Bandit told the old Brahman to make a fire and once the fire was burning strongly he shook himself three times to let the insects perched on him to escape and then leapt into the flames. Fortunately the flames did not touch Sasa Bandit and the old Brahman hurried to carry him to the moon in his arms.
He drew an image of the rabbit on the moon in Maneang Sela “plaster” and wished the figure of the rabbit long life. Under the power of the Buddha and the resolution of Indra, the shape of the rabbit has appeared in the moon ever since. To reflect this belief the Khmer people celebrate it annually during the full moon of the Khe Kadek. They prepare special cakes, Ambok and bananas to salute the moon.
The Festival of Illuminated Floats (Bondet Protib) consecrates Preah Changkaum Keo (the main parts of Buddha) in the Naga World and the Buddha’s footprints. In Pali Teathavong scripture it is said that the four Preah Changkaum Keo are dedicated in four directions: Traitroeng Paradise, Naga World, Srok Kanthea and Toan Borakaling Roath. In Pali Pheana Veara it is said that the footprints of the Buddha are located in five directions: Sovann Mealika Barapoat, Sovann Barapoat,Sovann Koda Barapoat, Yoonka Borei and Stoeng Neamatea.