The number of people willing to give rice and other offerings to monks dipped significantly over the new year, as the price of goods has risen in Banthey Meanchey province, monks and villagers said.
Khmer New Year is one of the most prominent occasions for the offering of rice and drinks to monks at their pagodas, who then pass the gifts on to ancestors.
In years past, Banthey Meanchey pagodas have welcomed throngs of people, sometimes in the thousands, but this year, many of the pagodas were silent.
Buddhist monk Theon Seoun, of the famous Sopheak Mongol pagoda, said soaring food prices made it hard for people to find money and buy food for monks.
His pagoda saw fewer than half as many people as normal this year, he said.
“Not many people came to the pagoda this year,” he said, looking over a paltry collection of offerings. “The number of people coming to the pagoda decreased around 60 percent because they didn’t have money to buy the high-priced food.”
Many of Cambodia’s Buddhists attend at least two or three pagodas, but that too has decreased this year.
“With the price of food increasing dramatically, I can only go to one pagoda, or I have to spend a lot of money,” said Hy Kim Yeong, who usually makes offerings at three pagodas.
Yen Yeoun, director of Banteay Meanchey’s Religion Ministry department, admitted that high costs kept numbers low.
“It’s true that high food prices affected many people, and the people who go to the pagodas also decreased slightly,” he said.
But Min Khin, secretary of the Ministry of Religion, said the number of people did not decline, thanks to good security and transportation.
The ministry estimates there are more than 4,300 pagodas across the country.