Khmer New Year is not only celebrated in Cambodia, but also in Lao, Thailand and Myanmar. This is a celebration with Hindu origins, but, afterwards, they made it coincide with the Buddhist calendar and now it is a religious festivity. This is the end of year 2557, year of the snake, and the beginning of year 2558, year of the horse.
The legend tells that the most powerful of gods, Kabel Mohaprom, had seven daughters, one each day of the week. The son of the god of birds, Thamabal, got very famous for his intelligence, which was so big that he could even speak the language of birds. God Kabel, jealous of his fame, challenged him to solve an enigma. He descended to the Earth and asked him a question: where is the happiness for Cambodian people in the morning, in the afternoon and at night? If the son of the god of birds could find the answer, god Kabel would chop off his head; if he couldn’t, he would lose his.
Thamabal accepted the challenge. He spent the week without being able to find the answer but, the last day, he listened two eagles making fun of him because his stupidity for not knowing the answer, which was very simple: “in the mornings, happiness is in the face, because Cambodians wash theirs to start the day; in the afternoon, happiness is in the chest, because they refresh theirs to fight the heat; at night, happiness is in the feet, as Cambodians wash them before going to bed.” Kabel Mohaprom fulfilled his promise and his head was cut off. But he was so powerful, that if his head touched the land, it would burn, if it touched the air, the water of the clouds would evaporate and, if it touched the sea, all the water on the earth would dry. God Kabel’s eldest daughter went down to the earth riding a holy buffalo to place her father’s head in Kailash temple but, before, he walked around mount Meru, home of gods, so they could see that her father’s head was still powerful and he kept on being the god of gods.
Each year ever since one of god Kabel’s daughters descends to the earth with his head to judge if this (the earth) must be saved and, later, she comes back to heaven doing the same trip that the eldest daughter did around mount Meru.
This is what we have celebrated this year: the angel (the daughters are referred to as angels to the foreigners) of the Monday, Koraka Tevy,has come down at 8:07 am, and she has decided that Cambodian people must be saved one year more, which has been a relief. Cambodian people place altars at their homes with offerings for the angel; every year they are different. A fortune-teller predicts what time the angel will descend, which animal she will ride and what she will want to eat and drink and, depending on what they want, those will be the offerings. This year, she came riding a holy tiger guided by a horse and she wanted to eat sesame, peanuts and bananas and to drink orange juice. Besides these, as an special article, she wanted essences and body oils.
To thank his salvation, Cambodian people celebrate during three days in the streets, playing traditional games, dancing in the pagodas and throwing talc powder and water at each other. Now in Cambodia throwing talc powder and water is kind of forbidden because it caused a lot of traffic accidents, but in Lao and Thailand they do it in every corner, in every kilometre on the roads.
So, what happens when the angel goes down? Basically what happens is that there is an apsara show on TV in which one dancer represents the angel of this year and another the one of last year, they talk, one relieves the other, and they promise to protect the people of Cambodia.