Andre Akito


February 16, 2022

Meak Bochea Day in Cambodia

February 16 was my first full day in Siem Reap. I was still trying to get used to the local streets and area, so I eventually stopped at a coffee shop nearby my apartment. I was focused on the work when suddenly I  noticed hundreds of people dressed in white clothes walking in line  on the street and carrying Cambodian flags and lotus flowers. I didn’t give a lot of attention initially and I thought that the amount of people would eventually fade away. however, more people kept coming and coming. They would never stop coming! At some point, I was so curious that I had to ask the waiter what was happening and where were all those people going to. He told me it was a holiday to celebrate Buddha and that those people were marching towards a local temple for a very special ceremony. 

I immediately got my computer, payed my bill and went back to my apartment to get my camera, hoping that I could still find the line of people on the streets and follow the pilgrims to where they were heading to. In reality, It wasn’t necessary to rush, since the street was still packed with people and the line was still growing when I got back. 

I followed them throughout the streets, getting to know my new city until we finally reached wat damnak pagoda. There were more hundreds of people inside the pagoda, talking, sitting and playing. Elderly, children,  students, all kinds of people. After a few minutes, people started gathering around a red carpet that was leading towards the center of the pagoda. Then, they all kneeled and the ceremony started. Hundreds of monks carrying flowers and flags started walking on the red carpet towards the center of the temple. They were coming in many rounds and people were bending whenever a new round started. 

When the ceremony finished, I went back home and searched about the holiday. I found out that the holiday was a called Meak Bochea and that it was one of the most important days in the buddhist religion. 


What is Meak Bochea

Meak Bochea Day is a Buddhist Festival that is celebrated in a few southeast asian countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In some of these countries, the date is also known as Māgha Pūjā. It celebrates a gathering that was held around 2,500 years ago between Buddha and a group of 1,250 of disciples that happened. In this gathering, Buddha gave his final sermon to his followers, in which he summarized the “heart of Buddhism” in three principles: 

  1. Ceasing from all evil, 
  2. Doing only what is good
  3. Cleansing the mind. 

Buddha ordained these monks and also spread the principles of buddhism, what marked a key event in the development of the religion. On the same day, Buddha also correctly predicted his own death which then occurred three months later. Because of all these reasons, Meak Bochea is considered one of the most important buddhist dates and festivals. 

When is Meak Bochea

The date of the Meak Bochea Day changes every year, because it is based on the lunar cycle. It takes place on the full moon of the third Khmer Lunar Month, which falls between late February or early march. In 2022, Meak Bochea fell on February 16th. 

In Buddhism, a full moon day is considered a holy day and is considered the perfect time to repent of sins and “make merits.” The added historical significance of the full moon on Meak Bochea Day turns it into a day of penitence, of doing good deeds for merits, and of remembering the teachings of Buddha It’s worth noting that the date of this holiday in Cambodia may differ from other mekong region countries due to how the lunar calendar is used. 


Meak Bochea Day Celebrations

Despite being removed from the list of Public Holidays in Cambodia in a shake-up in 2020 to reduce the number of holidays from the country, Meak Bochea is still widely celebrated across Cambodia. It is an occasion when Buddhists go to the temple to perform merit-making activities, such as alms giving, meditation and listening to teachings. 

The added historical significance of the full moon on Meak Bochea Day turns it into a day of penitence, of doing good deeds for merits, and of remembering the teachings of Buddha. To these ends, many attend local temples and pagodas on this day to perform merit-making acts. They also strive to purify their minds, avoid all sins, and to adhere to all of the Buddha’s commands. Those commands include avoidance of drinking alcoholic beverages, killing, stealing, and lying. Many who have broken these precepts will seek forgiveness on Meak Bochea Day. 

In addition, people will take part in processions in the streets. There will be processions in which candles, incense sticks, and lotus flowers are carried around the temple three times. The first time is meant to honor Buddha himself, the second to honor his teachings (Dharma), and the third to honor monastic life (Sangha).

In Siem Reap, two processions take place, starting around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. One around Angkor Wat and another around Wat Damnak. Like 2.500 years ago to the last speech of Buddha 1.250 monks will walk around Angkor Wat and Wat Damnak. 


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