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Column: Let’s wish Cambodians a very happy New Year – a Happy Year of Rabbit 

By Punya Wijetiunge  

Cover photo by Punya Wijetiunge

Thoughts from my teal chair .. 

It was a bright and sunny Monday morning here in Utica. My tasks were many, but top of the list was going to a Buddhist temple to pray and remember my grandma, who lived a remarkable 100 years and died in 2021. It was her birthday that day. 

At Hannaford, I told the woman in the floral department that I was on a budget, but noted that my grandmother, Anchiamma (the Sinhala word for “Grandma”) loved roses. The sweet lady handed me a single pink rose to go along with my less pricy flower bosque. 

Once I had my offering, I searched online for a Theravada Buddhist Temple. I knew I might speak a different language from others who worshipped, but the chants are done in Pali, and I speak Pali well. I was elated to learn there was a Theravada temple a ten-minute drive from me.  

As I got out of my car, I had mixed feelings. I was afraid I would find the temple locked. But as I turned the latch, the door opened.  Better still, there were three women making Dhana for the Buddhist monks.  

Dhana is what Buddhists call the food that is offered to the monks. It’s a Pali term that is used to respect the clergy. 

They welcomed me as if I had known them for years. I’ve heard about Cambodians’ hospitality, But I didn’t know they were this friendly.  

The head Priest Ven. Chameun Kaoral sat at the table waiting for the Dhana to be served.  

 My new friends hurried to include me in the worship. Bunsann Lim and Nol Tran busied themselves preparing the pooja (prayers offered to the Bhuddha).) Chun Li placed my flowers diligently, evenly distributing them among all the vases that were offered to Buddha.  

Once the Dhana was served, another younger monk sat to take part in the offering of the pooja.  

Elated, I sat down. I remembered  Achchiamma taking  me to the temple.  This is exactly what I experienced growing up.  

That Monday, everyone at the temple chanted in Pali and offered the Dhana. I was happy to see my hot cross buns I purchased at Hannaford were also part of the Dhana offered to the monks.  

As we let the monk finish their Dhana, Bunsann started having a conversation with me. She told me she came to Utica in 1982, and lives five blocks away. She comes to the temple every single day to offer pooja to the monks. She said she is a seamstress by trade. A grandma of 10 grandchildren and four children, she looked very much contented with life.  

Following the pooja, I was invited to join my new friends and fellow worshippers for lunch. 

The lunch consists of No Makoa  a steamed flower shaped sweet made with sugar coconut and flour and Sansaam Chrouk – a sweet, steamed milk rice wrapped in banana leaf. I also had Shrimp and a curry of eggplant with rice. Followed by fruits. 

Bunsann told me the temple would be celebrating the Cambodian New Year, the year of Rabbit. The year of Rabbit is the year of longevity, peace and prosperity.  The celebrations were held on April 14, 15 and 16.  

On the evening of April 14, there were prayers for two hours. The prayers began at 5 p.m. A pooja was followed by a brief meditation.  

The next day, April 15, the Cambodian New Year celebration was held in the temple, with a Cambodian band playing till mid-night. There were games and a Cambodian food stall.   

On April 16,there were Dhana in the temple premises again followed by pooja from 10 am to 3pm.  


All of my interactions at the temple left me happy and contented. Although the celebrations have passed for 2023, I look forward to participating again next year. Let’s wish everyone a Happy New Year, and do all we can to support temple Wat Satheathek Uticaram throughout the year.

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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