Unique Ok Om Bok Festival of Khmer people

WVR - The Khmer Ok Om Bok Festival is organized at the end of the harvest, expressing gratitude to the Moon.
Khi trăng lên cũng là lúc bà con phum sóc tập hợp đầy đủ tại sân chùa, hướng về mặt trăng tiến hành làm Lễ cúng trăng được xem là lễ chính trong Lễ Ok Om Bok của người Khmer Nam Bộ. (Ảnh: Phương Nghi)
As the moon rises, villagers gather at the pagoda precincts, sitting towards the Moon to conduct the Moon Worshiping Ceremony – the main ceremony in the festival. (Photo: Phuong Nghi)

Ok Om Bok Festival is a traditional festival of the Southern Khmer ethnic people, held on the full moon day of the 10th lunar month every year. It is also one of the national intangible cultural heritages recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The festival is also known as the Moon Worshiping Ceremony (Pithi thvay pras - chanh) or “Putting sweet rice flakes”, held on the full moon night of the tenth lunar month (on November 27 this year) at the pagoda precincts, in each house or gathered in a spacious area, with the aim of expressing gratitude to the Moon, the God according to Khmer beliefs helps protect crops, coordinate the weather, and brings fresh fruit and prosperity to villagers.

This is the ceremony of “offering the moon” and “seeing off the Goddess of Water” that hardly anyone forgets the speciality sweet rice flakes as well as the “festive section” with useful activities, such as Ngo boat races, Du ke performances, Ouk Chaktrang (snail chess) competitions, and sky-lantern and water-lantern releasing festivals.

Nghi lễ cúng trăng, thường làm một chiếc cổng bằng thân lá dừa (hoặc cây mía) có trang trí hoa lá…lễ vật gồm cốm dẹp, khoai lang, trái cây, bánh dẹp, bánh in, bánh pía… (Ảnh: Phương Nghi)
Moon worshiping rituals often include making a gate of coconut leaf stems (or sugar cane) decorated with flowers and leaves. Offerings include sweet rice flakes, sweet potatoes, fruits, and pia cake.

According to Khmer culture researcher, Meritorious Artist Duong Chau Ol, to prepare for the festival, the Khmer often make a bamboo gate decorated with flowers and leaves; on the gate is hung a piper betel string consisting of 12 rolled betel leaves symbolizing the 12 months of the year and an areca string with 7 areca nuts split into shells like two bee wings, illustrating the 7 days of the week. Nowadays, the ceremony is simpler, just by bringing a table and placing offerings on it.

According to the Khmer concept, "Ok Om Bok" means "Putting flat rice by hand", the festival is also known as the festival of making flat rice.

Mr. Duong Chau Ol said, apart from flat rice, which is a mandatory offering, there are also fresh coconuts and bananas, sweet potatoes, snow-flaked cakes, and fruits surrounding. People also put candles and incense and then in the evening, when finishing all the preparations, everyone spread out their mats and sat with their hands clasped facing to the Moon to wait for the ceremony.

Acha làm chủ lễ thực hiện nghi thức cúng trăng mừng Lễ Ok Om Bok. (Ảnh: Phương Nghi)
Acha presides over the Moon Worshiping Ceremony to celebrate Ok Om Bok Festival. (Photo: Phuong Nghi)

Right when the Moon rises and shines brightly, everyone lights incense and pours tea. At the pagoda, Acha is the ceremony host, being the oldest person at home. He prays to express the people’s gratitude to the Moon, asking the Moon to accept the offerings, granting everyone good health, timely rains and favorable weather, a bumper crop next year, and a full and happy life.

After the ceremony, Acha gathers the children to sit cross-legged, clasp their hands facing to the Moon, bring sweet rice flakes and other offerings, and then puts a little of each into their mouths, thereby asking them to tell their wishes. They will answer and he will advise them to be obedient and study well to contribute to our life. Besides, everyone shakes hands and wishes each other all the best, and has fun by dancing romvong and sadam, ending the Ok Om Bok Festival.

The ceremony is a traditional cultural beauty of the Southern Khmer people. During the days of the Ok Om Bok festival and Ngo boat races, it is easy to feel the change and development of the Khmer and gather with people to sing and dance, along with the sound of sadam drums and pinpeat making the festival bustling. This is an opportunity for the Khmer to have fun after hard-working times.

Ok Om Bok Festival is one of the three major annual festivals of the Khmer ethnic people, together with Sene Dolta and Chol Chnam Thmay. The festival was recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2014.

From a festival of Khmer ethnic people, today, Ok Om Bok has become an open cultural activity of the community, contributing to the preservation and promotion of traditional cultural identity and consolidation, as well as strengthening the great national unity.

Spreading unique cultural values of ethnic minorities with less than 10,000 people
Binh Thuan strives to preserve Kate Festival of Cham people
Joy of teaching ethnic writing in Khmer pagodas
Acknowledge exploitation activities of ethnic Khmer issues in Tra Vinh province
Chol Chnam Thmay festival of Khmer people

Translated by Phuong Linh