Festival Of The Harvest
By: Ly Vanna. Pictures by : Nathan Dexter ( March, 2002 Volume 2 No.3 )

Every year in almost every village in Cambodia, a special festival marks the end of a season of hard work. This is the Darlien or Sdarlien Festival-the Festival of the Harvest. Da, more formally, or Sdar, means a Buddhist ritual or ceremony at which merit from good deeds is offered to the spirits of ancestors or to patrons. Lien is the name for the rice-threshing yard. Although it always falls around the Khmer lunar months of Boh and Meak Thom (usually January and February on the western calendar), the timing of the festival depends on the season, the weather and the rice. When the rice is ready for harvest, most of the village goes to the fields to help bring it in. This is a period of backbreaking work. But when the fields are finally bare, that marks a time for celebration. "When our villagers have finished the harvest, we wait for that day to celebrate Darlien," Mr Vorn, an achaa from Poun PhnomPagoda in Dorn Kor district, Phnom Penh, said.
"It always starts in the evening and finishes on the afternoon of the next day." First the villagers gather, either at the local pagoda or sometimes in the village. Monks soon arrive to pray and give thanks to the ancestors for providing the harvest.
Then the festivities begin. Everyone wears their best clothes. Amplifiers boom out the music and the younger generations dance, often until late at night or even through to the morning. The elders might join in, or they might just sit and watch and talk. Dances are not limited to traditional fare such as roamvong (a slower, circular dance) and roamkbarch (classical dance). Slow songs alternate with Khmer and western pop and this is a festival for celebrating an end to the tough slog of harvest, so modern music and western disco is often on the cards.

The next morning, the villagers return, bringing food for the monks. They begin collecting offerings from the new harvest of rice and bringing it to the pagoda. More than 80 per cent of Cambodians rely on farming to survive. The economy is overwhelmingly agriculture based, and a harvest, whether bumper or just sufficient, is a cause for relief and joy. This year, drought in some areas and flooding in others has brought the national harvest down, and rice prices have already risen. "Somaly rice (the best quality rice) is 1200 riel per kilo this year, compared to 1100 last year," Chan Kheng, 49, a rice seller in Toul Kork market, said recently. But Darlien is not the time for people to worry about the disappointments of the last season. The Darlien Ceremony brings the whole village together. "We have spent between three and nine months on the rice crop and each grain we have is a result of a huge physical effort and worry and stress," said Mrs Porn, a farmer from Phnom Krorvang district, Pursat province. "Each single grain that makes it to our table is after inevitable wastage during harvest, the work of threshing, loading and transporting, husking, then cleaning and boiling it. We are thankful." The next day follows the same routine, with all sorts of food from samlor (soup) to sweets and cakes are collected at the pagoda or wherever the festival is being held and the villagers sit down together and eat before the festivities recommence.

Altogether, three meals will be eaten communally here before Darlien is over. There are slightly different takes on what Darlien celebrates. Although Darlien today is very much a Buddhist ceremony, its origins precede both Brahmanism and Buddhism and lie deeply in the ancient animist beliefs of Cambodia. "Darlien is a celebration giving thanks to nature rice soil, rain, water and weather-as well as our ancestors and elders and, of course, the lien and the granary that will store our precious harvest," Professor Hang Soth of the General Department of Cultural Techniques, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, explained. "Nowadays, Darlien has become a mixture of the three religions. “Ancestor worship refers to animism; natural resources fall under Brahmanism and the involvement of monks and the pagoda is an important acknowledgment of Cambodia's national religion, Buddhism." But Darlien means different things to different people. Achaa Vorn believes it is mainly to give thanks to those who farmed before him. "The ceremony thanks our ancestors, who have given us everything," he said. But Mr Chhim Khorn, who is director of a primary school in Poun Phnom, was one of those who saw the fun side, too.
"It's also a happy time, a time to relax with friends after the harvest is finished for another year," he said. "Villagers in Cambodia love this time. We always say 'chab khser khleing prorleng khser kor' play with your kites and leave the cows. It is the time we have fun between the harvest and starting all over again, planting the rice, in May." The new season is not far away at all. Farmers will begin to plant again from the day after the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, held on April 30.