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Future blessings - South Philly Review

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Future blessings
by Alexis Abate
The area's extensive Cambodian community celebrated the Year of the Ox by performing traditional festivities and customs from their home country.

The Bra Buddha Ransi Temple at Sixth and Ritner streets was the site of thousandscelebrating and observing the Cambodian New Year, one of the biggest holidays on the country’s calendar.

On the corner of Sixth and Ritner streets between two buildings that house the Bra Buddha Ransi Temples more than 1,000 people gathered to ring in the Cambodian New Year’s Year of the Ox.

Saturday afternoon, groups danced in unison to Bayon — a Cambodian band’s mixture of traditional and modern songs sung in their native tone of Khmer. Some sat and ate on the carpeted floors outside the temple, while others grilled traditional meals in front of the homes along Ritner. Earlier in the day, children soaked up the excitement by playing customary games to relish one of the largest Buddhist and Southeastern Asian holidays. Each morning of the five-day celebration starts with a traditional ritual followed by Chayam drummers and dancers performing for the masses.

If children weren’t dancing alongside the adults, they amused themselves with Silly String and blow-up comic characters such as Spider-Man. Americanized and authentic souvenirs were peddled on stands along street corners, not unlike those lining Broad Street during the Mummers’ Parade. Although similarities to Philadelphia’s long-standing tradition were present, the Cambodian event, which had the street blocked off, was unique in more ways than one. The majority of the men and women present were adorned in formal attire — a tribute to the respect Cambodians pass on to the new year.

“Our culture dresses nice on the New Year to show off the family,” Yun Or, treasurer of the Khmer Buddhist Humanitarian Association, said.

Cambodians believe wearing bold colors during the holiday season brings good luck and future blessings, Or said. This emotional connection allows Buddhists to look forward to the coming year and make amends for past mistakes. Traditional blessing dances called Robam Choun Por, among others, are performed to demonstrate the inner desire to change.

The Bra Buddha Ransi Temple, in conjunction with the Khmer Buddhist Humanitarian Association Inc. (KBHA), organized the local festivities to observe the Cambodian New Year that began April 13, the last day of the harvest season. According to Robert Koch, KBHA’s vice president and CIO, since the date fell during the week, they decided to extend the celebrations — usually spanning three to five days — to run through the following weekend.

In Cambodia, different events occur each day to bless the impending year. Incense sticks are burned in front of Buddha statues, while donations and kind deeds for happiness and prosperity are dispensed. According to Koch, the country actually shuts down.

“Everybody living in the villages heads to the countryside,” he said.

It is there the party extends into the wee hours of the morning. Locally, each day’s festivities ceased much earlier at about 8 a.m.

Tradition surrounds the Cambodian New Year, which celebrated the Year of the Ox (photo credit: Photo by Dashiell Davis).

But the shortened hours didn’t hold anyone back from attending. According to Koch, who has been involved in the community for more than 20 years, about 1,400 people attended Saturday’s festivities while more than 2,000 ventured out the following day. And the nice weather didn’t hurt, either. Neighbor Sokhen Koe has enjoyed the entertainment for the last few years with his family.

“I’m having fun and I’ll probably stay another couple hours,” the resident of Fourth and Ritner streets said.

Koch and a Buddhist monk opened the temple in 2000 and have been organizing events ever since with this celebration being one of the largest to date. Although the Cambodian New Year is one of their most observed, Koe thinks all holidays are regaled. Other important feasts include Phnohn, which is comparable to Halloween.

“It is when we pray to people who have passed away to release them from hell,” he said.

Kthin is another significant event in which Buddhists honor the dedication of their monks who remained in seclusion for three consecutive months.

With about 20,000 Cambodians living in Philadelphia, the Bra Buddha Ransi Temple remains the largest of the three in the city with a congregation of 3,500 plus 12 monks. The growth has led to the thought of purchasing an adjacent building, which is up for sale. Expanding their temple would be ideal for worship as well as the other services they offer to the community.

“We created this temple to try and help people with some kind of problem, to provide a service,” Or said.

With two prayer rooms in the one building, not everyone fits. The overflow gathers in the courtyard where the monks’ cement artwork signifies peace. The building across the street, with its rows of pews, is used mainly for funerals. According to Or, they hope to own the property by next year and are excited about the expansion.

Buddhists bring offerings of food to the monks and the temple during daily worship, but even more so throughout the New Year celebration. Special dishes are prepared. According to Koch, whose wife is Cambodian, chicken and pork curry, cellophane noodles mixed with mushrooms and chicken, spring rolls, stir-fry, shish kebobs and sticky rice patties called kralan prepared with beans or peas are some traditional concoctions.

While hundreds let loose to the Khmer sounds on the street, dozens sat meditating in the temple’s basement focusing on strengthening their inner peace.

“As we get older, for the future, anything that’s wrong, we correct it in the New Year,” Victor, one of the temple’s monks who has been practicing for more than 25 years, said.

Buddhists leave the previous year behind to make positive changes and right every wrong during the upcoming year. With several distinctive practices, one thing remains parallel: Resolutions are one of the most central aspects of the Cambodian New Year, but of a different kind.

“We take off a bad thing from the old year to the New Year,” Or, 50, said. “We try to clean up all the bad things in the New Year.”

From: http://www.southphillyreview.com/view_article.php?id=8311


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phalla said...

that is good news, Rath,


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