The Khmer Calendar, also known as the Cambodian or Buddhist calendar, plays a vital role in the lives of millions of people in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries. The Khmer calendar, also known as the Chhankitek or Chhankitekh, is lunisolar. This means it combines elements of both lunar and solar calendars, shaping their festivals, rituals, and daily activities.
This time we will be taking a look at the Khmer Calendar, its origins, structure, and most importantly, the important dates that hold special meaning in Cambodian culture.
The Origins Of The Khmer Calendar
The Khmer Calendar traces its origins to ancient India, where it evolved from the Hindu lunar calendar. It was introduced to Cambodia around the 1st century CE, alongside Buddhism, by Indian missionaries. Over the centuries, the calendar has integrated both Hindu and Buddhist elements, reflecting the syncretic nature of Cambodian religion and culture.
Structure Of The Khmer Calendar
The Khmer Calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means it combines both lunar and solar elements to track time. Here’s a brief overview of its structure:
The Khmer Calendar is primarily connected to the lunar year, with each month consisting of either 29 or 30 days and beginning with a full moon. The determination of the month’s length is based on the moon’s phases.
To keep the calendar in sync with the solar year, an additional month or the “Intercalary Month”, is added every two or three years much like a Western leap year. This ensures that important agricultural events, like rice planting and harvesting, align with the correct season.
The calendar also recognizes the solar year, which consists of 365 days and is divided into 12 months. These months correspond to zodiac signs.
Each month in the Khmer Calendar is associated with an animal sign, similar to the Chinese zodiac. These signs play a significant role in Cambodian astrology and are used to determine personality traits and compatibility.
Here’s a table showing the Khmer names and their approximate equivalent Gregorian Calendar months:
|Gregorian (Approx.)||Khmer Month||Days|
|March – April||Chêtr (ចេត្រ)||29|
|April – May||Pĭsakh (ពិសាខ)||30|
|May – June||Chésth (ជេស្ឋ)||29 (30)|
|June – July||Asath (អាសាឍ)||30|
|July – August||Srapôn (ស្រាពណ៍)||29|
|August – September||Phôtrôbât (ភទ្របទ)||30|
|September – October||Âssŏch (អស្សុជ)||29|
|October – November||Kâtdĕk (កត្តិក)||30|
|November – December||Mĭkôsĕr (មិគសិរ)||29|
|December – January||Bŏss (បុស្ស)||30|
|January – February||Méakh (មាឃ)||29|
|February – March||Phâlkŭn (ផល្គុន)||30|
Now that we have a basic understanding of the Khmer Calendar’s structure, let’s delve into the important dates and festivals that define the Cambodian way of life.
10 Important Dates In The Khmer Calendar
Two types of calendar are used by Cambodians – the lunisolar version we are looking at which is the traditional one used for religious purposes, and the International Calendar which is used for civil purposes.
Khmer New Year – Choul Chnam Thmey (ចូលឆ្នាំថ្)
Perhaps the most significant celebration in Cambodia, Khmer New Year marks the beginning of the Buddhist year. It usually falls in April, coinciding with the vernal equinox. The festival lasts for three days and is a time of cleansing, renewal, and family reunions. People visit temples to make offerings, perform traditional dances, and exchange gifts.
Pchum Ben – Ancestor’s Day (បុណ្យភ្ជំុបិណ្)
Pchum Ben is a 15-day religious festival that usually takes place in September or October. During this period, Cambodians pay their respects to deceased ancestors by offering food to monks and spirits. It is believed that during Pchum Ben, the gates of hell open, allowing spirits to visit their living relatives.
Water Festival – Bon Om Touk (បុណ្យអុំទូក)
Celebrated in November, the Water Festival is one of Cambodia’s most exhilarating events. It marks the reversal of the Tonle Sap River’s current, signaling the end of the rainy season. The festival features boat races, fireworks, and concerts along the riverbanks.
Buddha’s Birthday – Visak Bochea (វិសាខបូជា)
Visak Bochea, celebrated in April or May, commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Devotees visit temples to offer candles, incense, and flowers, and monks lead processions. It’s a day of reflection, meditation, and acts of kindness.
Royal Plowing Ceremony – Phrarith Wat Preah Phraong and Trott Rott (ព្រះរាជពិធីបុណ្យច្រត់ព្រះនង្គ័ល)
This ancient ceremony takes place in May and marks the beginning of the rice-growing season. Sacred oxen plow a field while royal soothsayers predict the year’s harvest based on their actions.
Magha Puja (មាឃបូជា)
Magha Puja, observed in February or March, is a day to honor the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks. Devotees gather at temples to offer alms and listen to sermons. It commemorates an event where 1,250 enlightened monks spontaneously gathered to hear Buddha preach.
Kathen កឋិន (Festival Of Monk Robes):
The Kathen festival lasts for a month and typically takes place in October. During this time, Buddhists offer new robes and other supplies to monks. It’s a way of accumulating merit and supporting the monastic community.
National Independence Day – Bony Ekreachychate (បុណ្យឯករាជ្យជាតិ)
Cambodia’s Independence Day that falls on November 9, commemorates the country’s liberation from French colonial rule in 1953. It’s marked by parades, cultural events, and displays of patriotism.
Royal Birthday Celebrations
Cambodia celebrates the birthdays of its monarchs with grand festivities. King Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday on May 14 and the King’s Father Norodom Sihanouk’s birthday on October 31 are occasions for national celebration.
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