The chief monks of two Buddhist orders delivered a message on Wednesday instructing monk leaders and pagoda chiefs across the country to call off the traditional Khmer New Year celebrations.
Patriarch Bou Kry, of the Thammayut sect, wrote a letter saying the decision to ban gatherings was made to adhere to Ministry of Health instructions to prevent and stop the spread of Covid-19.
The ministry had earlier decided to shut down religious gatherings. Prime Minister Hun Sen also addressed the issue at a press conference at the Peace Place on Tuesday.
The letter read: “I decided to issue an announcement to the chiefs of monks in the capital and provinces calling off the traditional Khmer New Year celebrations which fall on April 13, at 8:45pm and gatherings in pagodas nationwide.”
Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Non Nget wrote a similar letter saying that all pagodas had to avoid mass gatherings. However, he requested Buddhists to prepare sacred offerings such as candles, incense, flowers, cakes and fruits to honour their respective ancestors.
Ministry of Religions and Cults spokesman Seng Somony said on Wednesday that the prime minister had decided not to allow the people to take days off during the holiday and advised against mass gathering at pagodas.
“Allowing all monks to call off the New Yew celebrations means that gatherings at pagodas to recite prayers and playing games like Bohs Ongkunh, throw heart-shaped pillows, tug of war and skipping are banned,” he said.
For the call to be effective, he said monks, civil servants and local authorities had to collaborate to disseminate information and educate the public.
“In the past, during Khmer New Year, when they played Bohs Ongkunh, tug of war and other games, the local authorities would help to provide security and maintain order. But when there are no such activities, the authorities are involved in protecting safety and security,” he said.
He requested that Buddhists prepare religious services at their respective homes, but with few participants. They have to maintain a safe distance from others as announced by the ministry. Even when sprinkling holy water, they have to be vigilant, he said.