As Cambodians from all over the country flocked to Phnom Penh’s riverside area yesterday to watch boat races, concerts and each other, the city’s monks remained in their pagodas on direct orders from the head of the monkhood.
Earlier this month Non Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya order, released a statement telling monks that they “should not walk or wander in crowds to see the boat racing or musical performances” during Water Festival in order to “maintain the dignity of Buddhist institutions.”
To make sure monks do not violate this dictate, a municipal Buddhist committee deputized 29 high-ranking monks from around Phnom Penh to lead a monitoring force.
“This morning we arrested then released two monks, one from Cambodia and one from America,” said monk monitor Ham Hour yesterday.
Ham Hour, the head of the monk security force in “Block A,” the area along Phnom Penh’s central riverfront, said that the two robed alleged truants were questioned about Buddhist beliefs in order to make sure they were not masquerading as monks and that the American was admonished and released into the street and the Cambodian was released to his pagoda.
Ham Hour spent yesterday sitting in the shade of a stupa at Wat Botum answering two mobile telephones and conversing with other monk monitors by two-way radio.
“Normally the monks who are out are Khmer Krom or from Thailand and they have not heard of the regulations so we teach them,” said Ham Hour.
Keo Sopheak, a monk living at Wat Ounalom on the riverfront, said yesterday that although he could not go outside, he had still found a way to enjoy the Water Festival.
“We can’t go out but we always watch the races on television,” said Keo Sopheak as he helped write a sign informing visitors that no vehicles would be allowed inside the locked gates of the pagoda.
Monks may attempt to avoid the Water Festival, but it still finds its way into their pagodas in the forms of travelers from the provinces and boat racing teams looking for shelter during their stay in Phnom Penh. The members of a boat racing team from Kompong Chhnang were camping out yesterday inside Wat Sarawanth.
Keo Sopheak said that the monks were doing their best to keep people out of Wat Ounalom because visitors in the past had presented a sanitation problem, urinating and defecating on the buildings.
“This year and last year we have had to keep people out because of litter and so our monks can do normal prayer,” said Som Chan, head of doctrinal regulation at Wat Ounalom.