Every year, on the 14th and 15th day of October, is the time the Khmer celebrate the Ok Om Bok Festival. This festival is also known as Cung Trang Festival.
Ok Om Bok is the largest and most anticipated festival of the year of the Southern Vietnam Khmer people. They hold the festival with the hope of a good year of favorable weather, bumper harvests and luck. For the Khmer, the Moon is seen as a deity regulating the harvest and blessing the people doing well in farm work. Therefore, on this day, every family join the Cung Trang festival. The festival takes place in Tra Vinh, Soc Trang provinces where the ethnic Khmer people are crowded.
Usually, the Khmer prepare the offering of Cung Trang including sweet potatoes, taro, green rice flake cake, fruit, and candy a month before the festival.
The next things in their preparation are making the bamboo gate. Two bamboo trunks are used to make the pillar of the gate while the coconut leaves are used to make the horizontal dome. At the top of the gate, the Khmer rope twisted betel leaves symbolizing twelve months of the year, and string seven areca fruit split like bee wings symbolizing seven days of the week. The Festival offerings are placed under the gate to show the respect to the moon god.
On the 14th or 15th of the full moon, the villagers gather in the courtyard towards the moon for the ceremony. The ceremony is attended by both the elderly and young children. The oldest villager prays to express human gratitude to the moon god, please the deity to receive the offerings and give everyone bumper harvests.
After that, the master of the ceremony feeds the children green rice flake cakes and pat a few times on their back while asking them about their wishes. The Khmer believe that the wishes of the children will be the belief and motivation of the adults next year.
According to the traditional customs of the Khmer people, the finishing of the ceremony is the opening of many festival activities. The most outstanding one is boat racing. It is a traditional ritual to farewell the water god to the sea after the harvest. The ritual is also known as a religious one to honor Nagar the snake goddess who turned into a log to bring the Buddha across the river.
The boat racing activity takes place jubilantly and bustling with the participation ò a lot of local people and visitors as well. Each boat racing teams come from many areas of the province or other provinces. Normally, the teams will be divided into two groups: the group that was ranked last year and the others. The boat is about from 22 to 24 meters long, 1.2 meters wide which can hold from 50 to 60 competitors. Nowadays, as the boat isn’t the dugout anymore, it is made by matching many long boards together. The prow and the rower is both curved, the hull is decorated with live floral patterns. Especially, at the head of the boat there is an animal head as a logo for each team. On the side of the boat, people put a long bar from the head to the tail of the boat called Donxanh Tuok in order to balance the boat when rowing.
While the teams race enthusiastically, on the shore are the hubbub of the people with gongs. Creating the cheerful and bustling festival atmosphere, the boat racing deserves to be one of the most important cultural and traditional events of the Khmer people.
Beside boat racing, the festival also has other festivities such as Ram Vong dance, lantern floating, etc. The lanterns are made of banana barks, shaped into a mini temple with many colorful decorations. Inside the lantern are the offering for Buddha, the Earth and Water goddess as an apology for polluting the water and earth here.
The Ok Om Bok is surely one of the essential festivals of Southern Khmer people in particular and of the Vietnamese in general. It isn’t natural that Ok Om Bok attracts hundreds of people from all around the country, the traditional ritual and the interesting activities of the Khmer are the highlight of the festival. Making an excursion to Mekong Delta, you will have opportunities to enjoy this interesting cultural festival.
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