Praying for rain

By Elliot Ambrose

The trail ahead is steep,  riddled with rocks and twisted roots. Sina, my guide, tells me that it is only 65 meters to the top of the mountain but, in the heat of the day and my legs growing tired, I have a hard time believing him. Breathing heavily and sweating hard, I’m on my way to experience the water festival at the Phnom Bakheng Temple.

Finally reaching the top, I turn and see that the mass of people at the base of the mountain have now become specks in the distance. I catch my breath, then turn again to encounter a large congregation, kneeling around an altar of Buddha’s footprint.

“They are praying for rain,” says Sina, gesturing towards the crowd. It is the beginning of the monsoon season and the people have come from provinces near and far to ask the gods for the blessing of heavy rains. Rice farming is an important part of the Cambodian economy and sufficient rainfall is essential to the success of the crops and, in turn, the livelihood of the people.

The sweet smell of incense floats in the air and a colorful offering of lotus petals and folded banana leaves adorn the temple stones. Many have brought contributions of money as well. From a small hut just outside the assembly, a loudspeaker blasts a chant that echoes throughout the complex. Sina explains to me that the chant is a promise to the gods that the people will abstain from wicked things such as alcohol and fighting in return for a good rainy season.

Watching the mass of people, all deep in prayer, I begin to become more aware of the importance of rain to Cambodian culture as well as the role of faith and reverence in everyday life.

In time, the ceremony ends and the people begin to disperse. My mind swiftly turns to the steep descent down the mountain and I turn to look at the trail, sighing. I notice a group of elderly woman, hunched over from age, shuffling past me and down the path. I tighten the straps on my pack and start walking.

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