Khmer Traditional Ceremony of Lantern Floating, Moon Praying, and Ambok Eating
Since long time ago, Cambodian people annually prepare the Lantern Floating, Moon Praying, and Ambok Eating (Pithi Bandet Bratib, Sampas Preah Khae, Ok Ambok) in the night of full moon day after Vasana (full moon day of 12th Lunar month). Every year in Phnom Penh, these ceremony is celebrated together with the Water Festival (Boat racing festival). Regarding these ceremonies, there are legends telling the causes of performing them.
Lantern Floating Ceremony
Once upon a time, there was a couple of white eagle making a nest of five eggs on a big tree near by a riverside. One day, there was a big rain with strong wind, caused the nest and the eggs dropped into the flowing river. When the eagle couple came back from food hunting, they didn’t see their nest and eggs, the tree branches are broken, on the ground were falling leaves. The eagles thought that, there was probably storm has come. They were so sorrow of missing their eggs, too much grief that they flied to throw their body into the tree trunk and died. After died, they were born as Eagle King in the heaven.
The five eggs which were flowing along the water, has arrived in different places and they were picked up by chicken, dragon king, turtle, cow, and tiger. Each of them picked up one egg and brought to their own settle. The hatching day has arrived, there were five boys born from the eggs. All the animals felt that it’s miracle that human were born out of eggs, so they all tried to bring up their human-child carefully.
After the boys were growing up, they felt very strange that their parents are animals while they were human. One day, they decide to leave their parents to earn knowledge of being a Buddha. Before leaving, all the five animal-parent had the same message to their children: whenever you has succeed in your Buddhahood, please attached my name with yours too.
As the result, in Buddhism now has five Buddhas with their names that started with the animals who had brought them up: Kok Kasandho (chicken), Ko Nagamano (dragon), Kassapo (turtle), Gotama (cow), Maitreya (tiger).
After leaving their parents, the five young man had met together and found that they had the same biography, so they had decided to live together as brothers since then.
One day, while the five men were talking about ‘who were their real parents’, the white eagle couple has appeared on the tree branch near by and told them the truth. The five men saluted to pay respect to their parents and they feel regret that they didn’t have chance to take care their parents. The eagles hadn’t allow their children to live with them, they said: “whenever all of you feel missing us and want to offer us anything, you all can do so by make a cross mark on the offering and dedicate to us. By this we will receive the merit of your offering.” The eagle disappeared as they finished their words.
Throughout their lives, the five men always done as the advice of their parents. Every time of dedicating offering to their parents, they make a cross mark on the offerings and float it on the water. Then this has become a tradition until now.
On the full moon night of the 12th lunar month, along the river we will see many lantern are floating on the water surface containing offerings with flowers incense sticks and candles. People make their wishes before releasing the lantern. It’s believed that the sincere praying could become true.
Every year, at the riverside in front of the Royal palace, the biggest lantern is the Royal Lantern which floating exactly at 12 am of the full moon day. There is also firework during this floating time.
Moon Praying and Ambok Eating
There is a legend said that in the lives of before attaining enlightenment, there was a life that Lord Buddha were born as a Rabbit. On every full moon day, the Rabbit always made observation of the eight Silas (the eight precepts: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to speak falsely, not to slander, not to eat the wrong time, to avoid worldly gifts, not to use unguents or ornaments), and made his life as an offering.
At one full moon night, the king of angels appeared to the Rabbit as an old Brahman, asked the Rabbit for his life as food. The Rabbit agreed, but then the Brahman said that he has practiced the precepts all his life, he couldn’t kill anyone. After listened, the Rabbit advised the old Brahman to light a fire, then he would jump into the fire to kill himself, so that the Brahman could get his meat as food. But before killing himself in fire, the Rabbit prayed for having his image printed in the moon from that time until the end of this world. And that’s why we see an image look like rabbit in the moon.
To remind about the Buddha’s life as Rabbit, people celebrate the moon praying and ambok eating ceremony. It’s to pray the image of the rabbit in the moon. The offerings are foods of rabbit’s favorite such as ambok (pounded rice which prepared by dry-frying grains of paddy rice then pounding them to flatten the grains and remove the husks), banana, sweet potatoes, yams, coconut, etc.
People chose to prepare this ceremony on the full moon day of the 12th lunar month because it’s the end of the rainy season which the offerings are abundant.
On the 12th lunar month full moon night, every house of Cambodian, they prepare a table in front of the house with offerings, incense sticks, candles, flowers, and everyone in the house make their praying to the moon. After that, everyone enjoy eating Ambok and other foods.
‘Ork Ambok’ means ‘hand-feed the pounded rice’. This is also a Khmer tradition during the moon praying night. The elderly in the family will ask the younger members in the family of what their wishes are, then hand-feed the Ambok into their mouths. By doing so, to bless their wish become true. In return, the younger also make wishes to their elderly.
The moon praying night is always a time for Cambodian families enjoy their time together happily, harmoniously.