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Cambodian New Year

Today is Cambodian New Year: an event that’s celebrated with much fervour at Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale, Australia.

My wife was born in Cambodia and emigrated to Australia as an infant when her parents fled the horrors of Pol Pot. The story is much the same for most Australian Cambodians who resettled in here in the 1980’s when our nation was, perhaps, a little more generous to those escaping persecution.

Immigration brings with it many changes, not just for those who relocate but for those who welcome them. Australia has accepted migrants from many nations and consequently many more cultural festivities are celebrated than in past times.

Today – 14 April 2014 – is Cambodian New Year (បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី). As with other ‘new year’ cultural celebrations, this one is a big deal for the Cambodian community. I don’t profess to know a great deal about it, so you can read more on Wikipedia. What I will share is my experience of the celebrations held at Wat Buddharangsi in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale. My wife and I visited on Saturday.

Interior of a buddhist temple with people sitting and eating inside.
The inside of Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale.

Springvale has long been a popular spot for Asian migrants to resettle. The significant number of new Buddhist temples that have arisen in this one suburb symbolises the change that Australia has experienced in the past 40 years. Wat Buddharangsi is a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Springvale that practices the Buddhist faith in the Theravada tradition. According to historical footage Wat Buddharangsi was constructed in 1994, which would make it one of the oldest of the ‘new’ religious buildings in Springvale. Wat Buddharangsi is a modest Besser Brick and steel-frame construction that loosely mimics the architecture of traditional temples in Cambodia. As with all temples, there is a community of monks who live at Wat Buddharangsi.

Chair inside a temple
A monk’s chair inside Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale.

I have been to celebrate Cambodian New Year before, but this time I had my camera and so decided to take some photos of the festivities.

Temple with people eating and dancing in the grounds.
The Cambodian community in Melbourne celebrating Cambodian New Year at Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale.

As one would expect, there is music, dancing and prayer but the most popular part seems to be the eating! Volunteers cook large amounts of traditional Cambodian cuisine and sell it to raise money for the temple. In a nation where Buddhism is a minority religion, fund-raisers like these take on a particular importance because they enable the religious community at Wat Buddharangsi to continue.

Buddhist altar in a temple with objects on display
The altar at Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale.

I have sampled a few of the dishes at the Cambodian New Year festival and have my favourites. Much is on offer, from noodle and rice dishes through to meat skewers, fruits and corn-on-the-cob (even horrid salted pineapple!). The food is prepared beside the temple under canopies with people lining-up to buy. We went a bit earlier in the evening before the crowds and consequently didn’t have to queue too long to get our dinner. Once our food was purchased, we went inside the temple to eat.

People lining up at food stall
Queuing up to buy food at Cambodian New Year.

Unlike in a church, which tends to a place of quiet reflection, the temple seems much noisier because it doubles as a social venue. Rugs line the floor and people sit on them to eat and converse. Etiquette dictates that one should not wear shoes when sitting or standing on the rugs, so we took ours off and left them at the side. Despite having been to Cambodia, I have not actually been inside a working temple there so I cannot comment on how Wat Buddharangsi compares. I assume that practices are the same in temples in Cambodia.

Ladies barbecuing corn cobs
Volunteers cooking food for Cambodian New Year.

Raffle tickets are offered for sale and singers entertain the crowds outside. Later on, people will dance traditional dances and play various games.

Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to stay too late this year. On previous occasions, I have met some of the monks who live in an adjacent house. Sometimes they emerge and mingle amongst the crowds.

So much smoke! Ladies cooking sticky rice meals wrapped in banana leaves.
So much smoke! Ladies cooking sticky rice meals wrapped in banana leaves.

With our bellies filled, we left Wat Buddharangsi and drove home leaving behind the sounds of celebration wafting up into the night sky.

Candles inside Wat Buddharangsi in Springvale.

Happy Cambodian New Year!



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