5+ Fun Facts About Vesak Day In Cambodia & Vocabulary

Statue closeup - Vesak day in Cambodia Ling app

Have you ever heard of Vesak Day in Cambodia? This holy holiday commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and nirvana of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha, otherwise known as simply Buddha or The Buddha. Vesak Bochea (as it is commonly referred to as) is an action-packed day jammed with Buddhist festivals all about Buddha’s life and serenity-filled teachings.

Also known as Vesak Bochea Day or Buddha’s Day (and sometimes spelled Visak), this occasion is traditionally observed by practicing Buddhists worldwide, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and the country focus of this post—Cambodia. So, if you want to learn more about Vesak Day in Cambodia, keep on reading!

Table Of Contents

When Is Vesak Day In Cambodia?

Vesak Bochea changes every year according to the Buddhist calendar. The public holiday is celebrated on the full moon of Vesākha month because that is the day that represents when Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and nirvana attainment occurred (the same day, but different years according to Buddhist lore). The exact date changes every year, but it usually falls around April or May.

In 2024, this holiday falls on May 22nd, so if you’re planning on being in Cambodia during this time, plan accordingly. This is a festive time of the year for Cambodians and extremely important to devout Buddhists, but even as a foreigner, you can join in on the Visak Bochea Day celebrations too!

What Is Vesak Day For?

Buddha Day is an occasion for paying gratitude to Buddha, who offered valuable guidance and wisdom to his followers. Cambodian Buddhists use this sacred day to honor Buddha’s life by imparting his teachings and philosophies, which always emphasize generosity and peace. 

Cambodians aim to bring happiness and lead virtuous lives through various generous offerings to the unfortunate, such as the elderly and handicapped, by donating food, money, or gifts. Celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha is meant to unite people and honor his life’s purpose of bringing harmony to humanity. I think that’s a philosophy we can all get behind!

Where Is Vesak Day Celebrated?

For most Cambodian Buddhists, Vesak Bochea Day occurs at the pagodas (holy places that look like tiered towers used for religious practice). Here, people gather to meditate, chant, and listen respectfully to the monks reciting Buddha’s many verses and life teachings in native Khmer.

People are encouraged to bring food, flowers, and other offerings for the Buddhist monks at the local temples. After all, this important event is meant to be celebrated with generosity in mind! The temples are decorated in small, humble ways, with many having put up Buddha statues, flowers, ornaments, Buddhist flags, and drawings.

Vesak day in Cambodia temples Ling app

What Happens On Vesak Bochea?

At the temples, processions are led by monks. This traditional march includes people of all ages as they hold candles, incense sticks, and beautiful lotus flowers—all offerings to Buddha. These processions are beautiful symbols of togetherness, giving, and selflessness, as the holiday, above all, wishes for participating Cambodians to be inspired to do things for others.

At some temples in Cambodia, Buddhists tend to pour water or tea over a small statue of Buddha as a little ritual intended to provide some emotional release. Other worshipers will choose to release floating lanterns into the sky in a flashy show in honor of Buddha.

Who Celebrates Vesak Bochea In Cambodia?

Most practicing and devout Buddhists in South Asia celebrate Vesak Bochea, no matter their class status. Attending the ceremonies at the temples are a mix of people, including regular citizens, Buddhist monks, and high-ranking royal government officials, because Buddhism is recognized as a state religion.

Other monks are coming from all over the country! They are invited to make the food-offering ceremony that much fuller because it is believed that participating in such a grand ceremony will bring merit to their current and next lives.

Young monks

Phnom Preah Reach Troap

In Cambodia, the biggest mass gathering held in honor of Vesak Bochea occurs at Preah Reach Troap, a huge, towering temple about 25 miles north of Phnom Penh. Many Buddhists (even thousands) make the trek to celebrate this important festival honoring Gautama Buddha on the hilltop mountain.

Buddha’s Teachings And Quotes

Buddha was all about passing on his fruitful knowledge, which inspired his followers around the world to lead kind lives and gain spiritual freedom. The monks who recite Buddha’s teachings during Vesak Bochea tend to focus on key verses that encourage Cambodians to treat all living things with respect and love, everybody and everything, exactly the way Buddha practiced his life.

A post about Buddha wouldn’t be complete without imparting some of the wisdom he coined, so here are some inspirational quotes for you in both English and the native Cambodian language: Khmer!

  • You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Khmer: អ្នក, ខ្លួនអ្នក, ក៏ដូចជានរណាម្នាក់នៅក្នុងសកលលោកទាំងមូល, សមនឹងទទួលបានសេចក្តីស្រឡាញ់និងការស្រឡាញ់របស់អ្នក។

Pronunciation: Anak, khluon anak, kadauchchea norna mneak nowknong sakallok teangmoul, samnung ttuol ban sechaktei sraleanh ning kar sraleanh robsa anak.

  • Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. 

Khmer: របស់បីយ៉ាងមិនអាចលាក់ទុកបានយូរទេ គឺព្រះអាទិត្យ ព្រះច័ន្ទ និងការពិត។

Pronunciation: Robsa bei yeang min ach leak touk ban your te ku preahatity preahchnt ning karpit.

  • Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.

Khmer: កុំរៀនពីរបៀបប្រតិកម្ម។ រៀនពីរបៀបឆ្លើយតប។

Pronunciation: Kom rien pi rbieb bratekamm. Rien pi rbieb chhlaeyotb.

  • Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.

Khmer: ពាក្យ​មួយ​ម៉ាត់​ដែល​នាំ​មក​នូវ​សេចក្ដី​សុខ ប្រសើរ​ជាង​ពាក្យ​មួយ​ពាន់​ម៉ាត់។

Pronunciation: Peaky​ muoy​ meat​ del​ nea​ mk​ nouv​ sechakdei sokh brasaer​ cheang​ peaky​ muoy​ pean​ meat.

  • Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, and concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Khmer: កុំរស់នៅក្នុងអតីតកាល កុំស្រមើស្រមៃទៅអនាគត ផ្ដោតអារម្មណ៍លើបច្ចុប្បន្នកាល។

Pronunciation: Kom rsanow knong ateitkal kom srameusramei tow aneakt phdaot arommo leu bachchobbann kal.

How Do You Say Vesak Day In Khmer?

Now that you’ve learned some information on Vesak Bochea, you might even be itching to visit the stunning Cambodia in order to check out this wonderful holiday in action for yourself. But, before you book a flight, why not learn a bit of Khmer to prepare yourself?

Let’s start with the way to say Vesak Day in Khmer, which is វិសាខបូជា (Visaeakh Baucha).

There’s so much to know about Vesak Bochea and there are a bunch of words you’ve got to know if you want to know how to accurately communicate these sentiments in Khmer. From candles to festivals to monks and temples, the table will have a bunch of Vesak Bochea-related words that you might want to know!

Vesak BocheaវិសាខបូជាVisaeakh Baucha
Full moonព្រះ​ច័ន្ទ​ពេញ​វង្សPreah​ chnt​ penh​ vong
Lunar monthខែតាមច័ន្ទគតិKhe tam chnt kte
Enlightenmentការត្រាស់ដឹងKar trasa doeng
Deathការស្លាប់Kar Slab
Bodhi treeដើមពោធិ៍Daempothi៍

Frequently Asked Questions About Vesak Day?

1. What Is The Difference Between Buddha’s Birthday And Vesak Day?

Since Vesak Day celebrates Buddha’s birthday, you might be wondering: Isn’t Vesak Day and Buddha’s birthday essentially the same holiday? Why not just wish one big “Happy birthday, Buddha!” and call it a day? Well, Vesak Day doesn’t just mean celebrating Buddha’s birthday but also acknowledges the day Buddha gained enlightenment and passed away.

2. What Food Is Eaten On Vesak?

Vesak Day has some traditional food customs that participants observe. The most interesting aspect? No meat is eaten! Why? It’s a symbol of compassion for living things, like animals, and going vegetarian for a day is a way to demonstrate respect for life. Typical dishes include anything rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and legumes.

3. What Are The Rules For Vesak?

The main rules for Vesak focus on taking care of living things (including yourself, people around you, and other living things) through a variety of self-care and generous acts. Buddhist devotees will typically abstain from meat and alcohol, donate to the less fortunate, and pay extra attention to doing good deeds that center around helping others to gain merit.

Ready to Enjoy Vesak Day In Cambodia?

Going to Cambodia during Vesak Bochea can be a great experience. The country truly blossoms as a fantastic place to witness the togetherness, kindness, and warm hospitality typical of the Cambodian people. Tradition is wonderfully woven into the fabric of this country, and it comes alive on this special day. All in all, Cambodia is the perfect place to celebrate Vesak Bochea.

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