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Bon Om Touk: The Cambodian Water Festival Celebrates Reversal of the River

Around 260 boats participated in the boat race

November 21, 2016: Cambodian water festival, also known as, Bon Om Touk, is an annual 3 days Cambodian festival. The festival marks the reversal of flow of River Tonle Sap. Every city celebrates the festival but the biggest celebration takes place in Phnom Penh region. It includes boat racing and concerts. It attracts nearly 2 million people from around the globe each year. The festival is celebrated to commemorate the end of the rainy season.

The Tonle Sap is the main source of income for many fishermen and farmers as it is rich in fish stocks and the land near the lake, due to the slit deposits left by the floods, is fertile. The festival is a way to give thanks to river.

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The Tonle Sap empties into the Mekong River for most of the year. But when rainy season arrives, the River Mekong rises and reverses the flow back into the lake, making it ten times its original size. At the end of rainy season, the flow is reversed once more, emptying the excess waters of the lake into the Mekong.

This natural occurrence is celebrated with 3 days festivities including boat races, parades and fireworks.

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A story holds that Bon Om Touk was a way for the Kings to prepare their navy for battles. At Bayon, situated near Banteay Chhmar and Siem Reap, naval battles have been carved into stones which are similar to the boats that race on Tonle Sap.

The festival dates back to the beginning of the 12th century when Angkorian King Jayavarman VII started it to kick off the country’s fishing season. The festivities were meant to please the divinities of the river. They believed it ensured a plentiful harvest of fish and rice for the following year.

Months before the festival, the locals start to prepare by decorating their boats. Thousands of people watch the race and cheer. Massive display of fireworks light up the sky. Unlike the other boat races, Cambodian boat crew faces forward.

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The festival had its ups and downs in the past years. In 2010, nearly 350 died due to an overcrowded bridge. While in 2011 and 2013, boat races were cancelled due to the floods and in 2012 races were cancelled because of the death of King Norodom Sihanouk. The water level was too low last year.

This year, however, there has been a big turnout. Locals and masses have showed up in great number. There were about 259 boats participating in the race including 63 international standard boats, 170 paddle boats and 76 special racing boats.

Prepared by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: @diksha_arya53

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