She wears a white robe, holds a sword in one hand and a chapei in another, sits astride a buffalo, is accompanied by a dragon, has a weakness for bananas and is due to arrive on earth at precisely 11 minutes past seven on Friday.
Her name is Ke Mi Ra Devi, and she is this Khmer New Year’s devada—or angel—according to an almanac recently published by the Ministry of Cults and Religions that informs the public about each angel, her special attributes and her tastes.
“The new angel Ke Mi Ra Devi will arrive at 7:11 p.m. on April 13. Cambodian people should prepare five candles, five incense sticks and…offer her bananas because this is her favorite food,” the almanac states.
The custom of the New Year’s angel stems from a tale that has its roots in Indian mythology, according to Vong Sotheara, deputy head of the history department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
A talented young scholar was challenged by the king of the Gods to answer a riddle. If the boy could answer, the king would cut off his own head; if he could not, the boy would lose his. The boy won and so the king was decapitated.
“Before beheading, he gave his last messages to his seven daughter angels…that during the New Year his head must be taken to parade around the world for 60 minutes by one of the seven daughter angels [who each represent a day of the week],” Mr. Sotheara said.
While one of the seven angels has a taste for blood, Ke Mi Ra Devi has a simpler palate—a fondness for bananas—and Phnom Penh’s banana vendors yesterday said business had been thriving ahead of the start of the New Year on Friday.
“Banana sales have been good this year because the angel eats bananas,” said Kong Chetra, 32, a fruit vendor at Kandal market. “The price has increased from about 2,500 riel to about 4,000 riel [$1] per bunch, but I think they could reach nearly 10,000 riel [$2.50] on the last day of New Year.”
Around Kandal market yesterday, colorful stalls selling replica angel ornaments, New Year’s greeting banners, dragon decorations, and tinsel were also doing swift business, with quite a few monks among the shoppers.
“The ‘Happy New Year’ banners have sold a lot, but the angels are selling well too,” said stall-holder Ly Vanna, 36.
Sin Sarot, a shopper buying a string of lights from Ms. Vanna’s stall said he was very excited for the New Year festivities to begin.
“I’m buying bananas to offer the angel, and we’re going to play traditional New Year games,” he said. “The angel, people believe in it. I cannot say if it’s real or not real. For me, scientific and religion is mixed together.”
Not all news ahead of the New Year was good, though. The government’s almanac also makes predictions about the year ahead, and said that the outlook was bleak for the coming Year of the Dragon, predicting that there would be flooding, 9 percent of the rice crop would be lost, and people would “meet with starvation.”