New Year Folklore

Khmer New Year tradition, believes and folklores intermingle tightly together. Cambodians practice the tradition and reinforcing their beliefs about heaven and earth, good and bad karma. The folklore about New Year reinforces this belief. Every New Year, they believe that one of the seven New Year angels came down to Earth. Based on the day of the week the New Year falls on, one specific angel is chosen. In addition, the folklore called "Sonkran Sote" entails such beliefs and brings forth the significance of the New Year angels. This folklore is also known by several names including "Dhommabal" and "Kabel Moha Prom".

Songkran Sote (សង្រ្កាន្តសូត្រ) [SIN03]

Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful man who had a son named Dhammabal Koma. Dhammabal Koma completed his formal education by the age of seven and became the wisest of all men. Near a lake where all the birds nested stood Dhammabal's palace, a majestic structure built by his father. Dhammabal learned to communicate with the birds and won the respect from all who met him. His wisdom and teachings were well known throughout the region.

One day, the King of Heaven, Kobel Mohaprom, heard of Dhammabal's reputation and became envious. The King of Heaven decided to come down and challenge Dhammabal to a test of intellectual prowess in the form of three riddles. If Dhammabal answered correctly, the King of Heaven would cut off his own head. On the other hand, if Dhammabal could not answer, it would be Dhammabal's head that suffers the fatal blow. Dhammabal had seven days to solve the riddles.

After much deliberation, Dhammabal realized he was no closer to solving the riddles and it was already the sixth day. Frustrated and ashamed, Dhammabal decided to flee into the forest to kill himself before the seventh day had come and gone. On his way out of the palace, he stopped to rest under a palm tree and listened unnoticed to two eagles in deep conversation. The female eagle enquired to the male eagle about their upcoming morning meal. The male replied that they could feast on Dhammabal's flesh since Dhammabal will not be able to answer the riddles.

The female eagle asked what the riddles were and the male eagle replied:

  1. In the morning, where is happiness?
  2. At noon, where is happiness?
  3. In the evening, where is happiness?

The male eagle then continued to elaborate on the answers:

  1. In the morning, happiness lies in people's faces as they splash their faces with cool water and prepare to meet the new day.
  2. At noon, happiness is reflected on people's chests as they bathe to cool their bodies from the afternoon heat.
  3. In the evening, happiness exudes from people's feet as they wash their feet to rest from the toils of the day and get ready for bed.

After hearing the conversation, Dhammabal Koma happily returned to the palace and awaited the King of Heaven. True to his promise, Kobel Mohaprom cut off his own head, but before doing so, he called his seven daughters to him. The King of Heaven warned that if his head were to touch the earth, the earth would catch fire and if his head were thrown into the air, rain would cease and all living things on earth would perish. Nor should they allow his head to touch the ocean since this would cause the ocean to instantly evaporate. So he asked the seven daughters to take turns carrying his head on a platter.

After these dire warnings, Kobel Mohaprom cut off his own head and handed it to Tungsa, the eldest daughter. Tungsa placed her father's head on a platter and took it to Mount Someru. Tungsa and a trillion other angels circled Mount Someru before bringing Kobel Mohaprom's head to Kuntheakmali temple in heaven. The angels created a magical gathering place for angels to meet each year at Mount Someru. Every year during the Songkran, one of the seven daughters would take turns carrying their father's head in a ceremonial circle around Mount Someru before returning to the temple in heaven.

Thus, on the first day of the New Year, the Songkran date, a different New Year angel comes down to earth. Depending on which days of the week the Sangkran date falls, one of the seven angels will represent the coming year. Each angel has unique associations depending on the items they carry, animals they ride or the food they eat as described in Moha Songkran. Each unique angel determines the different events destined to occur in the coming year.

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