The official Cambodian language, known in English as Khmer, belongs to the Eastern Mon-Khmer group of the Mon-Khmer language family. Employing a script which (like Thai and Burmese) is believed to have evolved from southern Indian Brahmi, Khmer is one of the few non-tonal languages in South East Asia. Centuries of close contact between Thailand and Cambodia has resulted in a considerable amount of borrowing between the two languages, both at the lexical and syntactical levels.
As in neighboring Viet Nam and Laos, French and Vietnamese are still spoken by members of the older generation, but the use of English is rapidly becoming widespread throughout the country and is expected to increase because it is the language employed within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). (Cambodian Cultural Profile)
King Jayarvarman VII introduced elements of Buddhism into the religious system of Angkor. The Buddha is represented in the same way as in India. By mid-1300, Cambodia transitioned from Hinduism to Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism is the religion of virtually all of the ethnic Khmers, who constitute about 90% or more of the Cambodian population. Buddhism originated in what are now north India and Nepal during the sixth century B.C. Theravada Buddhism is a tolerant, non-prescriptive religion that does not require belief in a supreme being. Its precepts require that each individual take each individual take full responsibility for his own actions and omissions.
Buddhism is based on three concepts: Dharma (the doctrine of the Buddha, his guide to right actions and belief); Karma (the belief that one's life now and in future lives depends upon one's own deeds and misdeeds and that as an individual one is responsible for, and rewarded on the basis of, the sum total of one's acts and act's incarnations past and present); and Sangha, the ascetic community within which man can improve his karma. The Buddhist salvation is nirvana, a final extinction of one's self. Nirvana may be attained by achieving good karma through earning much merit and avoiding misdeeds.A Buddhist's pilgrimage through existence is a constant attempt to distance himself or herself from the world and finally to achieve complete detachment, or nirvana. The fundamentals of Buddhist doctrine are the Four Noble Truths: suffering exits; craving (or desire) is the cause of suffering; release from suffering can be achieved by stopping all desire; and enlightenment –
Buddhahood – can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path (right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), which constitutes a middle way between sensuality and ascetism. Enlightenment consists of knowing these truths. The average layperson cannot hope for nirvana after the end of this life, but can by complying, as best he or she is able to, with the doctrine's rules of moral conduct-hope to improve his or her karma and thereby better his condition in the next incarnation.
Buddhism and other religions were crushed during the DK period. Buddhist temples were destroyed or desecrated, monks were killed or forced to leave the holy order, and Buddhist observances were forbidden. After 1979 Theravada gradually revived, and it was once again officially recognized by the state in 1989. Relatively few Khmer are Christian. The Cham (Khmer Islam) minority group is Muslim, while the Khmer Loeu or upland tribal peoples traditionally had their own distinctive religions. A variety of supernatural entities populates the universe.
These include spirits in the natural environment or certain localities, guardian spirits of houses and animals, ancestral spirits, demon-like beings, ghosts, and others. Some spirits are generally benign and can be helpful if propitiated, but others can cause sickness if they are displeased by lack of respect or by improper behavior. Each Buddhist temple has resident monks who follow special rules of behavior, conduct religious observances, and are accorded respect as exemplars of the virtuous life. A man can become a monk for a temporary period of time, and prior to 1975 many Khmer males did so at some point in their lives. Some men remain monks permanently. The practice continues, but there are now fewer temples and monks than before 1975.
In addition to monks, the achar is a sort of lay priest who leads the congregation at temple ceremonies and presides over domestic life-cycle rituals. Other religious specialists deal more with the realm of spirits and magical practices: kru, who have special skills such as curing sickness or making protective amulets; mediums ( rup arak ), who communicate with spirits; and sorcerers ( tmop ), who can cause illness or death. There are many annual Buddhist ceremonies, the most important of which are the New Year celebration in April, the Pchum ceremony honoring the dead in September, and Katun festivals to contribute money and goods to the temple and monks. Life-cycle ceremonies marking births, marriages, and deaths are conducted at home. Weddings are particularly festive occasions. There are also rituals connected with healing, propitiation of supernatural spirits, agriculture, and other activities, as well as national observances such as boat races at the Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
Traditional Folk Dance Refers to all kinds of dances that are passed on from one generation to another and that are often linked to an ethnic group's traditional' ceremonies. In Cambodia, traditional dances mostly involve animism and express beliefs in the super natural. When people have problems thought to have been caused by super natural or spirits, they offer lively dances to appease them.
Folk dances are performed at religious ceremonies, festivities, and for leisurely entertainment. Traditionally, all dances were performed in the village in large clearings or public areas at times of birth, marriage, death, during planting and harvesting, hunting, war, or at a feast. Some dances are related to Buddhist beliefs such as Kgnork Pailin and Trot dances. Others are performed once a year according to various spiritual and cere monial calendars.
Khmer folk dances are highly spirited dances that follow popular themes with lively movements and gestures. Dance motifs are usually based on local legends and the everyday life of the people. Dancers dance with easy, improvised yet.
Watch Robam Kanseng Snhe(Khmer-Cham dance)
Watch Robam Kanseng Sneh
composed movements that are designed to invite humor and enthusiasm, with an upbeat music and rhythm. Many dances are accompanied by drums and instru ments from the 111ohori andpill peat ensemble.
Traditional dances were not performed in a theater or on stage until 1965. From 1975-1979, all dances were interrupted during the Khmer Rouge period. Since then, most traditional dances have been re-choreographed and brought to the stage by researchers of The Royal University of Fine Arts under the direction of Prof. Chheng Phon.
Watch Robam Sovan Machha
Watch Robam Sovan Machha
Popular dances are come only known dances that people like to perform for enjoyment at social gatherings or festivities like weddings, house warmings, birthdays, and parties, etc. Popular dances are especially enjoyed during the New Year. These kind of dances are easy to learn, and can be danced everywhere and at anytime. Everyone ranging from the King to ordi nary people can be seen performing these dances. The popular dances that are most commonly-known in Cambodia are RormVong, Rorm Silapakar Rorm Kbach, Rorm Saravan, Rorm Lam Leav, Rorm Broun, and Rorm Chauk Kampeuh. All popular dances are accompanied by traditional Khmer rhythms and melodies.
Youth and students performed Khmer music at Museum
Music and dance are important elements of Khmer culture that occur in ordinary village life as well as in formal performances in the city. Traditional instruments include drums, xylophones, and stringed and woodwind instruments, although popular music incorporates Western instruments. There are classical, folk, and social dances, traditional and popular songs, and theater. Literature includes folktales, legends, poetry, religious texts, and dramas. Artistry is also expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, textiles, metalware, or even the decorations on a rice sickle.
There are two kinds of traditional music: one is the Pin Peath with stringed and percussion instruments and the other the Mohory with only stringed instruments. The different instruments are: Pin Peath is a group of instruments which have Roneath (xylophone in metal or bamboo), Kong (percussion instrument surrounding the player), a pear of Skor Thom (a very big drum, which has two faces, for making the rhythm), Sampho (a big drum, which has two faces, for making the rhythm), Sro Lai (a big recorder), Chhoeng (percussion instrument hitting each other for making rhythm).
The Cambodian Festivals
Water festival, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Khmers’ love of family social events, with music and an abundance of food, is best seen at the numerous festivals which are now once again being held throughout the country.
There follows a list of the more important national and regional festivals in the Khmer calendar:
This national holiday commemorates the fall of Pol Pot’s regime on 7 January 1979.
Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year is celebrated widely around the country by Cambodia's Chinese and Vietnamese communities. Although it is not a public holiday in Cambodia, many businesses are closed at this time.
This national holiday is marked by colourful parades.
Bonn Chaul Chhnam – Khmer New Year
Mid April, three days (14-16 April)
Bonn chaul chhnam is the Khmer equivalent of songkran in Thailand and phimai in Laos. Marking the end of the harvest season, it generally lasts for three days, during which time Cambodians clean and decorate their houses, make offerings at the local temple and throw water at each other as a form of blessing. City streets are decorated and brightly lit in the evenings and special cultural, entertainment and sporting events are organised especially for the occasion.
Bonn Visak Bochea
Mid May, one day
This nationwide festival commemorates the day of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. Held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar, it involves chanting, sermons and a candlelit procession to the wat.
Bonn Chrat Preah Nongkol - Royal Ploughing Ceremony
Late May, one day
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony dates back to the times when the reigning king traced the first furrows in the capital's sacred rice field, thus inaugurating the ploughing season. Today, the ritual is performed at the start of the rainy season in late May each year, with representatives of the king taking the role of King Meakh, who leads the yoke and plough, and Queen Mehour, who sows the seeds. After circling the field three times, the procession stops at a shrine where Brahmins invoke the protection of the gods. Sacred cows are then brought to eat from seven silver trays containing such things as rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine, and predictions are made for the coming year based upon what they select. The harvest will be good if they choose the cereals, rain will be abundant if they drink water, but trouble is feared if they eat herbs or drink alcohol.
Bonn Chol Vassa - Start of Buddhist Lent
Mid July, two days
Held to coincide with the eighth full moon of the lunar calendar, this festival marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist lent, when Buddhist monks fast and meditate. Young men consider this festival auspicious for entering the monkhood.
This national holiday celebrates the formal adoption of the Constitution of Cambodia in 1993.
Mid Autumn Festival
Celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese communities throughout the country during the middle of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the Mid Autumn Festival is a time for moon cakes and lanterns.
Bonn Dak Ben and Bonn Pchum Ben - Spirit Offering Festival
September-October, 15 days
Running for 15 days, this festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead, and is one of the most culturally significant events in Cambodia. Each household visits its local wat and offers food to the monks for their assistance in blessing the souls of late ancestors, relatives and friends. Pagodas are crowded with people taking their turn to make offerings, with many staying behind to listen to Buddhist sermons.
Bonn Kathen - End of Buddhist Lent
October-November, one month
Starting immediately after the last day of lent and lasting until the next full moon, this religious festival marks the emergence of monks from retreat. People all over the country form reverent slow processions to their local temple to offer them robes and other items, thereby bringing spiritual merit to all participants.
Paris Peace Agreement
This national holiday celebrates the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991.
Each year 9 November is a national holiday, held to celebrate the independence of Cambodia from France in 1953. A gala parade is held in front of the Royal Palace, which includes floats, marching bands and other entertaining festive activities.
Bonn Om Touk - Water Festival
Mid November, three days
The Tonle Sap River is the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. For most of the year the river flows out from the lake into the Mekong. However, during the rainy season from about June to October the Mekong rises, causing the Tonle Sap River to reverse its direction and the lake to swell to more than twice its regular size. At the end of the rainy season, when the water level of the Mekong drops again, the current reverts and flows back into the Mekong. This unique natural phenomenon is celebrated with three days of boat races, fairs, festivals, shows, parades, fireworks, music and dancing. (Cambodian cultural profile)
Royal Ploughing ceremony, Cambodia
Arts festivals in the western sense are a fairly recent development in Cambodia.
In recent years the area immediately in front of Angkor Wat has become a popular venue for major performances. Although some of these have taken the form of one-off appearances by international stars, an annual festival of Ramayana dance - currently known as Les nuits d'Angkor - has become a regular fixture and is now regularly supplemented through appearances by overseas artists.
In December 2005 the Phnom Penh Arts Festival (PPAF) was launched as Cambodia's first ever broad-based arts initiative, which aimed to bring together leading arts organisations, local artists and community groups to share the spirit of Cambodian culture. A free event open to all members of the public, the festival seeks to provide a showcase for Cambodian performers, musicians, actors and artists, all of whom offer their time for free.