The Battambang Provincial Hall will prohibit monks from events marking this year’s Water Festival, in an apparent move to safeguard their purity from being sullied by the jostle of crowded space. The Kampong Thom Provincial Administration has also held off celebrating the festival out of concerns about rising water levels.
The Water Festival – which falls on November 7-9 this year, corresponding with the full moon – is traditionally held in Phnom Penh but has been cancelled this time around due to Covid-19 concerns and the upcoming ASEAN Summit, among other major events in the same month.
Each year, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, boat racers and holiday revellers from across the country would congregate in the capital to celebrate the festivities, while some provinces also mark the events with lively regattas and entertainment.
In Battambang this year, the provincial hall will celebrate the festivities on October 9-10 along the Sangker River.
Regarding the ban, it said in an October 5 notice that the decision followed a meeting with the provincial Department of Cults and Religion, explaining that it is because many visitors are expected, with loud music and alcohol widely available.
“If they are seen there, their actions and images will undermine the values of Buddhism, the dignity of monks and the dharma discipline and may impact on religious beliefs, as well as cause resentment among Buddhists,” it added.
Venerable Hak Shenghai – an adviser to the National Council for the Khmer Language at the Royal Academy of Cambodia and executive director of the Buddhist Organisation for the Education of Cambodia – supported the instructions.
“This is to keep order during a large festival. Many people come to visit just for fun, and it would be inappropriate for monks to walk about like tourists in a crowded place. It would not look right in the eyes of Buddhists,” he said.
He added that there are other places monks should not go, including places where people eat, drink and dance.
“Generally at the Water Festival, all of these things take place. Thus, it is not an appropriate place for monks,” he added.
In Kampong Thom province, officials said the festivities will be held when the water level of the Stung Sen River is deemed safe, adding that it would notify the public as soon as a suitable date is determined.
“Due to weather conditions and the continuous rising levels of Stung Sen, it is not possible for boats to cross under the bridge, so the festival must be postponed,” it said in a statement.
Provincial governor Nguon Ratanak reassured boat racing fans that it has not been cancelled but merely delayed.
Back on September 15, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that he would suspend celebrations in Phnom Penh but would allow each province to make its own decision.