Ngon Heang twisted each piece of bright green banana leaf into a cone with practiced care.
Pinning each segment together with wood slivers, the 61-year-old Buddhist nun created countless small fans upon the worn floor of the Kien Klang pagoda in Russei Keo district’s Chroy Changva commune.
She and three other old women built the shapes into incense holders large and small Sunday, the first day of the Khmer New Year holiday, detailing their work with hot-pink bougainvillea flowers. They worked quietly and listened to the chanting of saffron-clad monks and breathed the jasmine, citrus and incense that wafted sluggishly in the humid air.
“As old women, we must know this tradition,” Ngon Heang said.
Over several hours, they created a lush, silk- and candle-covered, nine-tiered shrine, built to celebrate the arrival of this year’s “devada,” or New Year’s angel.
It’s a way to ask for happiness, health, luck, peace and agricultural productivity, said Proum Phoun, 78, a layman at Wat Kien Klang.
“We prepare it like this every year,” he said, for the hundreds of guests who come to pray and give offerings to the pagoda’s monks.
Like others across Cambodia, the Kien Klang nuns had the altar up in time for devada Tongsa Devy’s arrival. The deity came riding a rat at 6:24 pm Sunday, according to astrologers who use star charts to determine when the devada will show up each New Year.
This time around, the soothsayers also foresee that Tongsa Devy will feast on sour figs and bring difficult times. They predict a mid-year drought, a shortage of salt and rice, high food prices and disease for the common man, according to the Almanac prediction book compiled by Em Borin, which most Cambodians rely on to decipher the devada’s intentions. Government officials, on the other hand, will have a good life and successfully fight any enemies, Em Borin’s predictors added.
Despite that dark prediction, heavily laden shrines all over the Cambodia welcomed the deity Sunday. People at homes, businesses and office buildings alike set up altars laden with cans of soda and beer, packs of cigarettes and baskets of bananas, oranges and longan fruit.
Many people also decorated their shrines with figs, locally known as lvea fruit, because of Em Borin’s predictions.
Shoe Sokhun, 23, a fruit-seller at Phsar Chas, stocked lvea because he heard on the radio that Tongsa Devy prefers them.
“This year people need lvea more than any other year,” he said, adding that he had sold 30 kg of the fruit by mid-way through the first day of the New Year holiday.