A Color For Each Day, A Day For Each Color
By: Moul Jetr. Pictures by : Nathan Dexter ( February, 2002 Volume 2 No.2 )

Although city folks don't tend to observe the tradition as much any more, it is not unusual to attend a function and see all the women wearing the same color hols, phamuong and sarongs (types of skirts) on a given day. This is because each day of the week corresponds with a planet, and each planet has a personality of its own. So each day has a color which clothing should correspond to.

An ancient poem explains the days:

Red is for Sunday,
Orange truly looks like a beautiful moon,
Purple is reserved for Tuesday,
Wednesday is the green of the lieb plant
Thursday is the yellowish green of the leaves of a banana palm
Happy Friday is blue and must be tidy,
Saturday is the color of ripe pring (a type of plum) according to the ages

Cambodian traditional dress is usually a silk or cotton sampot or hol (types of skirts) and an embroidered collarless top for women, and a sarong for men, although many people nowadays, especially in the city, reserve these outfits for special occasions and wear Western clothes when going about their daily routines. Mrs Keo Narom, a researcher and writer at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, sites a document compiled in the 1960's by the Buddhist Institute of Cambodia as the best explanation of the choice of color for each day. "We dress by giving consideration to each planet's vehicle and personality," she said. "So Sunday (T'ngai attik) is the vehicle of the Sun. Sunlight to Khmers is seen as red, bright and strong enough to have an effect on people's feelings.
"Monday (T'ngai chann) is the day of the moon. The moon is seen as orange, representing a peaceful heart and victory. "Tuesday (T'ngai angkear) is the day of Mars. Mars can be nasty and stubborn, unlike the soft moon. To offset this, we wear violet, which is a mixture between red and dark blue. "Wednesday (T'ngai puth) is the day of Mercury. Mercury is impartial and even-tempered-never ferocious. People choose various colors for this day, but the most popular and the one that is generally seen as most favorable is the green of the lieb plant's leaves."
Lieb is a tree with edible leaves that are pale in dry season and turn a brilliant, vibrant green in wet season. It is often eaten with Khmer noodles, sour dishes and in kroeung, or spice pastes.

"What everyone does agree on is that Wednesday's color should be a combination of red mixed with blue, white and earthy tones to represent the soil," Mrs Narom said. "Thursday (T'ngai prohoh) is the day of Jupiter, the planet which we believe is the guru planet for magic, literature and natural phenomena on this planet. For this reason we wear yellowish green, which represents nature, flora and fauna.
"The type of green that best reflects Jupiter should have yellow in it to reflect flexibility, blue to represent progress and white to represent purity. Many people believe Thursday is the most auspicious day for their children to begin studies and that things are learned more quickly on this day of the week. It is an auspicious day, and a day the majority of ceremonies are scheduled for. "Friday (T'ngai sok) is the day of Venus. Venus is powerful but not spiteful like Mars or Saturn can be. His job is to ensure people are happy and he always maintains an air of tolerance. If he gets angry, he never loses his temper. The best color to represent him is a dark, rich blue," she said.
Friday is believed to be the most happy of days, a day when people should dress especially neatly, and a good day for moving into a new house. "Saturday (T'ngai sau) is the day of Saturn. He is compassionate and will assist those who please him. However, if he gets angry, he will destroy whoever or whatever caused his rage," she said.
"Khmers used to call Saturday Sau kheung (angry Saturday) or Sau soi (sorrowful Saturday). To offset this, we believe it is best to wear the color of ripe Jambolan plums, called pring tum-a combination of red and dark blue." Children born on Saturdays are believed to be at risk of suffering sorrow if they displease Saturn, so parents will often invest in rituals to please the planet and ward off potential disasters should the child fail to live up to the planet's expectations. "If someone does not have the correct color for a particular day, they can substitute pring tum for any of the other days," Mrs Narom concluded. For mourning and funerals, pring tum, black or white are all suitable colors. Other countries have slightly different ideas of colors and corresponding days they should be worn, but Cambodians staunchly hold to their belief in their auspicious colors. So next time you are at a formal function, look at the clothes the women are wearing and see if you can pick what day of the week it is from their attire.