A flag-waving procession of jubilant monks and nuns wound its way through Phnom Penh Thursday morning in a colorful opening to a Buddhist flag-raising ceremony, celebrating peace and happiness in Cambodia and the long reign of Buddha and his teachings.
Organizer Lim Vanny, of the Preah Reach Sampoaleak Association, said 3,000 Buddhists converged at the Preah Samoni Chetdei stupa in front of the train station early Thursday to begin their march, circling Wat Phnom three times before heading to the river bank near the Royal Palace.
“We want to show the world that the Cambodian Buddhist religion is still alive after the Pol Pot regime; our ceremony [Thursday] is also to show the young generation to study and respect the Khmer Buddhist religion,” said Khovty Kim Lay, 52, the chief of the Preah Reach Sampoaleak association in Paris.
The ceremony continues until May 8, one day after the May 7 celebrations of Buddha’s birth and death. The group will travel to Angkor Wat on May 3 to conduct a flag-raising ceremony there for four nights and five days, placing flags at every temple in the region, Khovty Kim Lay said. They will also offer food to 1,000 monks.
The group was founded in 1997 by Lim Vanny, 40, of Phnom Penh. That was the year he conducted his first march in the name of Buddhism and peace. This year is only the second such march for his organization, which translates as the Buddhist Ship Association.
Members of the group regard Lim Vanny as their father, deferring to him Thursday as he moved throughout the crowds.
One woman, near the end of Thursday’s march, approached him and gave him three $20 bills, saying, “For you, father.” Lim Vanny then blessed the woman and moved on into the crowd.
Some 50 French-Cambodians flew to Phnom Penh for the event, according to Khovty Kim Lay. Dozens more Cambodians who now live in the US and Australia marched with them.
The ex-patriot Cambodians learned of the march through networks that Lim Vanny established overseas. Many of them said they came to Cambodia for Khmer New Year and the Cambodia Ship Association march.
Marchers took extra pride in their feat when they spoke of the long lasting traditions of Buddhism, just 2,544 years into its expected 5,000 year existence.
“Our Buddhist religion and Khmer culture are a sacred thing for upholding the Khmer nation,” said May Yut, 65, a lay woman from Kompong Chhnang province in Rolea Ba’ier district. Her brow was damp with sweat from the day’s long march when she spoke of the 2,500 years of Buddhism yet to come.
“We are only halfway,” she said.