Bon Om Touk

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Cambodian Water & Moon Festival
Official nameBon Om Touk, loy Bratib, Sampeah Preah Khae ,Ning Ak Ambok បុណ្យអុំទូក លយប្រទីប​ សំពះព្រះខែ​ និង អកអំបុក
Also calledBon Om Touk
Observed byKhmers
SignificanceMarks the Cambodian Water Festival
2019 date10-11-12 November
2020 date30-31-01 October & November
2021 date18-19-20 November
Related toThailand Loi Krathong (in Thailand and Laos), Il Poya (in Sri Lanka) Tazaungdaing festival (in Myanmar)

Bon Om Touk (Khmer: បុណ្យអុំទូក, IPA: [bon om tuːk]), or the Cambodian Water & Moon Festival, is a Cambodian festival celebrated in November, sometimes ending in late October. It marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. It corresponds to the lunar Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival is marked by dragon boat races, similar to the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival.

Visitors from every town and province travel to Phnom Penh to watch boat races along the Sisowath Quay and visited illuminated floating royal boats with firework and attend free concerts in the evenings over night. The festival lasts three days, and commemorates the end of the country's rainy season,[1] as well as the change in flow of the Tonle Sap River.[2] It includes boat races and concerts, and attracts several million people each year.[1][3]

Royal Water Festival[edit]

Water Festival is one of the major national festivals in Cambodia, held every November, sometimes falling in late October, the rainy month of the fishing season. Oum Touk is believed to have been celebrated from ancient times during the reign of Jayavarman VII in (1181 AD) to the present, To commemorate the heroic example of the Khmer navy that liberated the land from their oppression Enemies (Chams) of the Champa Kingdom in a boat battle on the Tonle Sap Lake.[4]:120–121 And the Cambodian Water Festival was first celebrated under King Norodom in 1873, according to French documents (Magasin Pittoresque 1873).[5] The Royal Water Festival has 3 days celebrations, with the first day being the opening day of the Royal Boat Race After the boat race takes place in the evening, large lanterns are Loy Bratib at 6 pm, representing national institutions to pray for peace from Preah Mae Kongkea or (Goddess Ganga).[6] The mother of the Ganga has a hand holding a lotus flower and a Earthenware of water pot, has a vehicle that is a water animal, a fish, a crocodile, a turtle,and a giant monsters Makara looklike Mosasaurus "Makor" in (Khmer language). Ganga comes from the word river in India called Ganga (Ganga river) is a sacred river of all religions in India, especially the Hindus, although there is no river (Ganga) in Khmer, but the mother of the Ganga is the mother of water keeper such as seas rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, which are the source of water for human and animal husbandry and the flow of sediments and fish. Khmer also has a sacred river, which is the victory of the Hindu, Tonle Sap, love and respect for nature as a mother and take care of their mother with gratitude and compassion. Grateful to the mother of the Ganga and as a prayer that has provided happiness and fruitful fishing in daily life. [7] At night, each ministry has Loy Bratib adorned with colorful lights and fireworks to celebrate its rich glory. The second day is the day of Ak Ambok and the worship of the Moon, which takes place at 12 past midnight, which is related to the ceremony of lighting the lanterns to pray to Preah Purthisat as Buddha, who was born as a rabbit the stories with the moon. Meanwhile, in the Ak Ambok ceremony, they can play a group game that makes the members laugh and use the mocking ceremony to make the members laugh until they decide to lose, and then let the loser eat Ambok with bananas until Oh, and the last day is the cut to finish the boat race at the Water Festival.

Dance on the Boats racing[edit]

The art of dancing on the bow of the boat has been around for many years and is believed by all citizens to represent the soul of a boat keeper, or boat spirit, Which may be the spirit of the woman or man who came to take care of the boat by lighting incense Sen Pren invited before the team took their boat to race officially in the Royal Water Festival. The tradition of having women dance on the bow of the boat continues in the minds of Cambodians to this day. The art of dancing on the bow of the boat also features a man representing the leader of the boat, who shouts for his team to operate in unison, energetically and harmoniously to reach their destination. All racing boats are always painted in the eyes of the boat, which makes the boat seem alive, representing dragons floating on the water as well. [8]

Loy Bratib Ceremony[edit]

Loy Bratib is believed by the Khmer people to have taken place in the 13th century through statues at Bayon depicting the people of the Angkorian period celebrating Thanksgiving. The Goddess Kongkea Devi, the guardian deity of the water of faith, is revered by the Cambodian people to this day. According to the record of Mr. Thach Pen alias "Piko (Pang Khat)" Khleang Province (Soc Trang),Khmer Kampuchea Krom. In 1528 AD, King Ang Chan I ordered Ponhea Tat, commander of the Khmer navy in the Bassac District of Kampuchea Krom, to prepare the Khmer army to defend the province of Preah Trapeang (Tra Vinh, Vietnam), which was under the rule invade by Đại Việt kingdom under Mạc Đăng Dung. Navy to hold drills boats races to test naval speed. "Ponhea Tat" organized the defense of the district to have 3 navies

  • The first group is called the "Srouch" Troops, and the boats that are shaped like today's racing boats are called Ngor boats.
  • The second group is called the Auxiliary Troops and two rows of rowing boats shaped like today's stand racing boats.
  • The third group, called the Bassac Troops, is a large boat with a roof, oars, and sails, shaped like the Bassac boat, called the Pok Chay boat, and the boat is very long. There is a single roof across the front, no walls, only used at night with lanterns, a food boat for the army, which is the delivery of rice from Kampong Chhnang to Kampuchea Kromin Preah Trapeang Province until the Cambodian navy won.[9] After his victory, at the same time as King Ang Chan I ascended the throne in the year (1529 AD), he established this lantern Loy Bratib ceremony every year with candles at night, to celebrate the victory over the Đại Việt, to dedicate the glass chin of our Master Buddha, which is kept in the world of Naga, and to be grateful to the Preah Mae Kongkea.[10][11][12]

The word Loy Bratib (លយប្រទីប) in Cambodian is a combination of the word Loy (លយ) in Thai language and Bratib (ប្រទីប) borrowed from Pali language, thus Loy Bratib is equivalent to Loy Krathong in Thai. However, according to the Royal Society of Thailand, the word krathong (กระทง) is derived from Old Chinese word (/*k-tˤəŋ/) which means ritual vessel or lamp.[13][14]

Loy Bratib Gallarey[edit]

History of the dragon Makor[edit]

Makor is a Sanskrit word meaning sea dragon or strange sea creature. This word is the origin of the word 'mugger' (गुंडा) in Hindi. In Hindi, the crocodile is called मकर (Makar or Makarak). The legend it is said that there was Asura an ascetic named Vritra, an ascetic who ruled over dragons. Stops all water from flooding, causing drought across the region, People began to pray to the gods for help. Immediately, a beautiful angel with a beautiful demeanor untied her hair and came down to create a water source in the area. People were very happy and named her "Goddess Ganga". At that moment, a single strand of hair of the Ganges fell to the ground, and it became the sea dragon or water-monster, Makara or Makor in khmer, stronger than anything other animals in the world, It also swallowed up all the creatures it encountered, whether humans, Singha as lions and Naga dragons. Since no one was able to subdue the monster, Shiva came down to face the Makor, promising the Ganges that if the god Shiva could catch the monster, she would be ready. Married with him. "Preah Eyso" as Siva also came down to face "Makor" for many days, still not knowing how to win or lose. "Kongkea" also told "Eyso" that if you want to subdue me, you can only lift me up and put me on the palm of your hand, And the goddess "Kongkea" used her hair to drop into the water to suck out all the water and leave it alone on land. The Makor, which was an aquatic animal, turned into a Singha as lion's foot. Shiva also uses great weight to sit and press on the beast, unable to withstand the weight of him. "Makor" is willing to surrender to Shiva by the ferocious power of the beast, Shiva held the animal's mouth into the elephant's trunk, The beast promised to spit it out, And Shiva has also used animals as vehicles since then. Makor transform to Gajasimha changed names to "Koch Jor Sey" which is related to "Reach Sey", the King Lion, protector of Kingdom of Cambodia made the symbols of Royal arms of Cambodia The dragon boat races can be seen as a reenactment of these mythological battles.[15]


On the second day of the Royal Water Festival, a special commemoration of Lord Indra is celebrated. The reversal of the Tonle Sap suggests why a parallel could be drawn by the Khmer people with Lord Indra. Indra is the one who releases the water from the winter demon. This is the most common theme of the Rigveda concerning Lord Indra: he as the god with thunderbolt kills the evil serpent Vritra that held back rains, and thus released rains and land nourishing rivers.[16] For example, the Rigvedic hymn 1.32 dedicated to Indra reads:

इन्द्रस्य नु वीर्याणि प्र वोचं यानि चकार प्रथमानि वज्री ।
अहन्नहिमन्वपस्ततर्द प्र वक्षणा अभिनत्पर्वतानाम् ॥१।।
अहन्नहिं पर्वते शिश्रियाणं त्वष्टास्मै वज्रं स्वर्यं ततक्ष ।
वाश्रा इव धेनवः स्यन्दमाना अञ्जः समुद्रमव जग्मुरापः ॥२।।

Let me tell you the manly deeds of Indra, which he first accomplished, bolt-weaponed,
He slew the serpent, opened up waters, cleft in twain the belly of mountains, ॥1।।
He slew the serpent on the mountain, with heavenly bolt made by Tvastar,
Like lowing cattle downward sped the waters, then flowed to the ocean. ॥2।।[17]

—Rigveda, 1.32.1–2[18]

King Barom Reachea I also known as Bormin Reachea in the year (1568 AD) is said to have seen in the dream the place of this battle between Indra in Vritra as the Tonle Sap River in front of the Royal Palace.


The Royal Water Festival, which lasts for three days, was recorded for the first time under the reign of King Norodom in 1873 and follows a precise ritual. Dragon boats, from every major pagoda in Cambodia, come to Phnom Penh and compete for three entire days during daylight in elimination rounds until the final race on the third day. In the evening, at the sunset, around 6:00 pm, a prayer is said for peace to Preah Mae Kongkea and a candle is lit by the King. Following this prayer, illuminated floating boats parade on the Tonle Sap, accompanied by fireworks. The illuminated floating boats represent the various royal ministries of Cambodia.

Classification of the dragon boats[edit]

It is difficult to make a precise list of the various dragon boats involved in the race. The earliest French documents show boat carvings from the temples of Banteay Chhmar and the temple of Bayon. Khmer architecture is used to design various types of boats, such as:

World's Longest Dragon Boat
Kambojika Putta Khemara Tarei (front).jpg
Cambodia breaks Guinness World Records for World's Longest dragon Boat
(Kambojika Putta Khemara Tarei)
  • The Makara boat
  • The Naga boat
  • The Naga head five boats
  • The Elephant boat
  • The Crocodile boats
  • The Hanuman boat riding giant
  • The Sovanmachha boat or Mermaid boat
  • The Swan boat or (Hong boat)
  • The Peacocks boat
  • The Garuda boat.

Recent history[edit]

Phnom Penh resumed Water Festival celebrations in 1990,[19] following a 20-year break under the Lon Nol regime and then the genocidal Khmer Rouge. A few of Phnom Penh's many foreign residents started participating in the featured boat races in the mid-1990s, though in the first year of participation their boat capsized, along with two other teams, in the wake of a larger ship.[19] In 2008, five rowers drowned and a single rower drowned in 2009 during the boat races.[20]

The celebration turned tragic in 2010, when thousands became trapped and stampeded off the bridge between Phnom Penh and Diamond Island, killing 351 people and injuring 395 more.[21] Rumors spread that it was caused by fear of a coming storm or electrical shock from faulty wiring, and authorities ultimately laid blame on the swaying of the bridge.[22]

Phnom Penh authorities came under fire in 2016 for sanitation, after videos of cleaning crews sweeping trash into the Tonle Sap incited anger on social media.[23]

Upriver dams and a devastating drought in 2019 brought the Mekong to its lowest level ever recorded. The combination has left the Tonle Sap Lake, Southeast Asia's largest fresh-water lake, in crisis. Instead of months, the reversal of the Tonle Sap river lasted just six weeks, which may have consequences on fishing in the region.[24]

Buddhist Moon Festival[edit]

Legend of the Cheadok: The Moon Rabbit[edit]

The image of a rabbit and mortar delineated on the Moon's surface

In the Buddhist Jataka tales called Cheadok in its Khmer version, Tale 316 relates that a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon (Uposatha), believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.[25] According to the Khmer version of the popular legend in the Sovannasam Cheadok (ជាតក), this rabbit is called Pouthesat. Every full moon, this holy rabbit would offer his life to someone who wanted to become a Buddha. One full moon, the god Preah Ean found out about this. He presented himself under the appearance of an old man, and asked Pouthesat if he could eat him. The rabbit agreed to give his life to the old man for food. But the old man said, "This rabbit has observed moral precepts for a long time, so he cannot be killed." Then the rabbit told the old man to make a fire, and then jumped into the fire to kill himself, so that the old man could eat him. But before he jumped into the fire, he quietly wished that he could stay in the moon forever after his death. According to this legend, we can still see the rabbit in the middle of the moon today.

Salutation of the Moon: Sampeah Preah Khae[edit]

The Sampeah Preah Khae (Khmer: សំពះព្រះខែ, IPA: [sɑmpeəʰ preəʰ kʰaːe]; "moon salutation") is a Buddhist religious festival which is dedicated to the moon which coincides with the Royal Water Festival. Sampeah Preah Khae takes place on the last day of the Royal Water Festival. Cambodians usually set up an array of offerings in the form of fruits that are popular with rabbits, such as Ambok, banana, coconut, yam or sweet potato, as well as drink and incense in front of their homes at night before gathering at pagodas at midnight for the third ceremony, Ak Ambok.[26] They remember the life of Pouthesat the moon rabbit. The full moon determines actual date of the entire water festival. Cambodian people celebrate these two festivals around this time also because this is when bananas, coconuts, yam and sweet potatoes are in abundance.[27] After the Sampeah Preah Khae ceremony, devout Buddhists gather at a pagoda at midnight for the rites associated with Ak Ambok.[28]

Culinary traditions[edit]

Ak Ambok
Ak Ambok.jpg
Traditional rice dish of the Cambodian Bon Om Touk Festival, served with coconut and grapes in an ordinary Khmer household.

Ak Ambok (Khmer: អកអំបុក, IPA: [ʔɑk ɑmboːk]) is the traditional rice dish which forms part of the Bon Om Tuk ceremony. During the festival, it is traditional to eat Ambok with coconut juice and banana.[29]

Ak Ambok is made by first frying the rice in its natural husks, then beating it in a pestle till soft, and finally, the husks are then removed and mixed in with banana and coconut juice for flavor. This mixture is eaten when the clock strikes midnight, or when the incense offered at the beginning of the gathering, is consumed. Ak Ambok is still to this day a very popular traditional dish and it is for sale everywhere during the Bon Om Touk festival.[30]


In the middle of the night, household usually gather to burn incense first, and make small offerings such as ambok, coconut juice and bananas. Once consumed, adults usually take a handful of ambok to feed it into the mouth of younger children as a sign of care and goodwill. While holding their noses, children open their mouth and look at the moon usually making a wish, remembering the generosity of the altruistic rabbit as a model. Apart from these domestic rituals, Khmer people usually enjoy gambling as a group during the festival.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "At Least 345 Die in Cambodian Stampede". Time Magazine. 22 November 2010. Archived from the original on 25 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  2. ^ "Cambodia's Water Festival". Al Jazeera. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  3. ^ "Hundreds Die in Stampede on Cambodian Island". The New York Times. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  4. ^ Higham, C., 2001, The Civilization of Angkor, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9781842125847
  5. ^ Magasin Pittoresque 1873 "Canoe racing in Cambodia vintage engraved illustration". Alamy Stock Photo. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  6. ^ Vatsala Sperling (2008). Ganga: The River that Flows from Heaven to Earth. Inner Traditions. p. 32. ISBN 978-1591430896.
  7. ^ Harish Johari, Pieter Weltevrede (1998). The Birth of the Ganga. Inner Traditions India. p. 120. ISBN 0892816902.
  8. ^ Eng Soth (1969) Documents of the Great Khmer-Earth of King Khon Published: 2014
  9. ^ Piko (Pang Khat) Culture - Civilization - Khmer - India 1970 elibrabry Published: 2016
  10. ^ Treng Ngea Khmer History Part 1 and Part 2 1973 elibrabry Published: April 11, 2014
  11. ^ Eng Soth, Lim Yan (1969). ឯកសារមហាបុរសខ្មែរ (ព្រះរាជពង្សាវតារខ្មែរ). Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport 2009.
  12. ^ Eng Soth (1969). Moha Boros Khmer volume-1-7. eLibrary of Cambodia (published 29 August 2014).
  13. ^ "Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstruction" (PDF).
  14. ^ Bilmes, L. (1998). The /ka-/ and /kra-/ prefixes in Thai. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 21 (2) , 73-96.
  15. ^ Collection of Khmer Legends (1963) the University of Michigan Publisher: Buddhasāsana Paṇḍity Date: 22 May 2006
  16. ^ Muller, F. Max (1 August 2003). Contributions to the Science of Mythology, 1897. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9780766177253.
  17. ^ Hervey De Witt Griswold (1971). The Religion of the Ṛigveda. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 178. ISBN 978-81-208-0745-7.
  18. ^ ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं १.३२, Wikisource Rigveda Sanskrit text
  19. ^ a b ppp_webadmin (7 November 2003). "Barang enter Mekong Spirit in Water Festival". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Cambodia Water Festival turns tragic with deadly stampede". Christian Science Monitor. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  21. ^ Doherty, Ben (23 November 2010). "Cambodian stampede: Phnom Penh counts the cost of water festival disaster". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  22. ^ Press, Associated (24 November 2010). "Cambodia stampede: swaying bridge blamed for panic". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  23. ^ Vichea, Pang (16 November 2016). "Video shows workers sweeping Water Festival trash directly into Tonle Sap". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  24. ^
  25. ^ "The Jataka, Vol. III: No. 316.: Sasa-Jātaka". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Legends Of Bondat Protib & Ak Ambok". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Bon Om Touk Water Festival Phnom Penh Guide". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  30. ^ "Bon Om Touk 2019 and 2020 in Cambodia". Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  31. ^ "Khmer History by Mrs.Treong Ngea". savphov. 15 August 2018.