Angkor Villagers Seek Rain in a Ceremony with a Cat

One of the main features during the ceremony was performance of trot neang mev (cat-themed dance). Photo: Isa Rohany

SIEM REAP – After the country has suffered drought and a long dry season heatwave, villagers in Angkor Park held a ceremony to pray for rain amid concern that the deeply rooted ritual may one day come to an end. 



There is no exact date for the ceremony which has been practiced by Angkor Thom district’s Leang Dai village for years after the end of Khmer New Year. It was last held in 2019. 



Neak Poan Temple, in the middle of Jayatataka Baray or the North Baray, has always been the site of the ceremony. The temple was built during the reign of Jayavarman VII and has been a place for purifying oneself or healing.



This year, villagers organized the event on May 2 and 3. Usually attended by Leang Dai villagers, this year’s event also saw people from other villages who shared the same concerns: praying for rain.



 Usually attended by Leang Dai villagers, this year’s event also saw people from other villages. Photo: Isa Rohany



Before the ceremony, the villagers also asked permission from the APSARA Authority which oversees the Angkor Archaeological Park so that they wouldn’t not affect the temple.



The ceremony started in the afternoon with people gathering for ritual and religious practices including a spiritual ceremony involving  a woman possessed by a spirit. 



The next day’s rites consisted of alms offering and a parade three times around the Neak Poan’s towers during which young and old people poured water from the baray into the main drain which flow into smaller pools in all four directions.



A spiritual ceremony involving a woman possessed by a spirit is held. Photo: Isa Rohany



As part of the tradition, people prepared food and fruit during the event which involved rice, candles, incense, lotus and pigs’ heads. 



The ceremony was led by a layman or village elder while other villagers contributed. They also cooked food to eat together.



Ceremony involving a cat



One of the main features during the ceremony was performance of trot neang mev (cat-themed dance), a tradition of the people living Angkor Park as well as of Siem Reap. This dance is usually performed in the dry season to ask for rain. 



A group of women and men, some holding sticks, angrot (basket fish traps) and bamboo scoops sang with their faces painted like cats. They carried a bamboo cage with a living cat inside and poured water on it as they walked. 



 Neak Poan Temple, in the middle of Jayatataka Baray or the North Baray, has always been the site of the ceremony. Photo: Isa Rohany



While it is natural for a cat to be afraid of water, the act is meant to tell god Indra and Brahma to drop the rain as soon as possible because people are very cruel to it. It is also believed that cats have a special spirit that can communicate with gods in heaven.



Don’t let it go when I’m gone



Hai Voeun,74, has led the ceremony for many years. She said she had witnessed the ceremony since she was 13 when it was held every year at Neak Poan temple. 



An elder who still maintains the scarf-wearing tradition, Voeun is proud to keep up the tradition even as she is older. 



She hoped that the next generation will preserve such a beautiful tradition.



 Hai Voeun (R),74, has led the ceremony for many years. Photo: Isa Rohany



“This year, our villagers came to celebrate together. If I can’t come, please come and pray. Don’t let it go when I’m gone. I don’t want to lose it,” she said.



Neak Poan is not the only place to have this ceremony. People living in other places inside Angkor Park also hold the event including at Eastern Mebon temple, Pre Rup temple, Banteay Samre temple and Lak Neang temple. 



Outside the Angkor area, the ceremony is also held in Puok and Prasat Bakong districts.

 



Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this article was translated by Torn Chanritheara for Cambodianess.


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