“ât mech ban!” or “Can’t miss Bonn Phum!” trended on social media last week. Of course, young Khmers would never ever miss Bonn Phum for anything.
About 19 kilometers from downtown Phnom Penh, the Preah Theat Pagoda was this year’s venue for the Bonn Phum Festival. The 7th century temple built inside the pagoda got the spotlight in the village festival, as young people marked the beginning of a prosperous and eventful new year.
The beautiful scenery of green rice fields greeted us as we passed through the entrance road to Preah Theat Pagoda. Even before we reached the main venue, we already felt the colours and merriment we were about to witness. We proved ourselves right.
At the main entrance, we were welcomed by huge New Year star lanterns – a symbol of happiness and prosperity in the Kingdom. The handmade lanterns, which we’re all used to seeing in households every New Year, is part of the colourful Khmer tradition.
As we entered the pagoda, the sounds of traditional instruments echoed around, as in inviting everyone to dance and have a good time. Yes. Because that’s what Bonn Phum is all about – fun, revelry, joy.
Handmade decorations resembling pigs, wooden baskets, recycled tires and paper cut-outs were hung everywhere, putting colours to every corner of the three-hectare Preah Theat Pagoda. Along the walkways were small booths – all decorated lavishly – selling food, drinks, accessories, fashion items and handmade souvenirs for both locals and foreign visitors.
To match the venue’s jubilant vibe, everyone was also wearing their best dresses. Young Khmers came in groups – most of them were with their friends – enjoying a day away from academic pressure.
Srourn Lin Chu, 17, came with four of her friends. They were all wearing the same white shirts and long skits with Krama, a fashion trend among the young. Chu’s group toured around the pagoda, took “groufie” photos just about anywhere.
“I am so happy to have attended this festival. I really enjoyed watching traditional performances. I also enjoyed going to different booths of Khmer traditional stuff like Krama,” Chu said, still feeling ecstatic to have witnessed the festival for the first time.
Phan Sophou, who was wearing floral shirt – also a fashion trend during the New Year, was a picture of excitement when he entered the festival venue.
“This festival was really good. I saw the Khmer traditional games we use to play during New Year day in my hometown. And we enjoyed the dances, too,” shared Sophou.
In a country that’s known for colourful festivals and cheerful gatherings, Bonn Phum or village festival is the most perfect way to usher in the New Year. Bonn Phum is a way of motivating every Khmer to go back to the real significance of Khmer New Year. It highlights important religious ceremonies, traditional games and activities, and cultural dances and songs.
When Bonn Phum was brought back in 2014 by a group of young people who wanted to revive a tradition that slowly fading amidst modernity and social changes in Cambodia. Since then, the festival became an annual gathering, a festivity hundreds of thousands of young Khmer look forward to celebrating before the new year officially begins.
Now, Bonn Phum has become an avenue for culture, traditions, history, modernity and colours. Organisers of this gathering always brings in performances from traditional musicians to give young audiences a glimpse of Cambodia’s traditions.
This year, a conservative performances of Chapey Dang Veng (a traditional instrument with two strings), Shadow Theater, Lakhon Khol Wat Svay Adet pagoda and more traditional dances were presented to visitors, which gave more meaning to the gathering.
But what’s a festival without the big party? Young Khmers also enjoyed dancing as traditional musical instruments played. Rising group, Small World Small Band, sang their new piece ‘Chapey Bonn Phum’ to thousands of their fans inside the pagoda. Other artists and musicians also offered their talents to make Bonn Phum 2019 a memorable one. . .
Organised by Plerng Kob, the festival aims to bring back the traditions of our ancestors in celebrating Khmer New Year. The location for Bonn Phum changes every year to reach people from different areas outside the capital. Every chosen pagoda has a history and architecture design that is highlighted during the event.
This year, the total number of visitors to Bonn Phum Wat Preah Theat pagoda reached 200,000 – a big achievement since it was revived. Thanks to the effort of more than 200 young volunteers and the founders who spent all their resources to organise such a fun but meaningful and remarkable festival.
And from the Bonn Phum Festival last weekend, all Khmers are now ready to welcome the Year of the Pig – a year that’s bound to be filled with prosperity, joy and peace.