Hei Neak Ta the Parade of the Spirits

Hei Neak Ta or also known as the Spirit Parade is a festival that is celebrated each year to mark the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. In other parts of Asia, Hei Neak Ta is known as the Lantern Festival and it is celebrated solely in the 15th day of the lunar calendar. In Cambodia, celebrating Hei Neak Ta can go on for three to four days. And in this article, we are going to find out how Cambodians celebrate Hei Neak Ta.

Parades Here and There

Hei Neak Ta or the procession of the spirits features thousands of strong parades that includes bloody displays of devotion such as spikes through cheeks and sliced tongues. The parade starts from the Sam Orng Chinese temple and makes its way along the banks of TonleBassac river to the Monivong Bridge. As we mentioned earlier, Hei Neak Ta marks the 15th and final day of Chinese New Year festivities and Cambodians like to hold their Hei Neak Ta festivities in Meanchey district, Takhmao, and O’Russey Market.

The parade is so festive that you can hear it long before you can see it. Music, drums, and excited shouts of the parade’s participant will fill the streets before you can see it full scale. Each parade has some sort of teams that dress in elaborate costumes and sit or stand on open-bed trucks and remorques while other excited marches escort the vehicles on foot. The one that is seated as if on a throne in the truck or the one walking decisively with large followers is the person who they believe has taken on the personality of a Chinese spirit. The “spirits” are dressed in decorative robes while wearing towering headpieces. Then together with his followers, they go to each house that has put out an offering. At some offerings, they would take out a ceremonial sword in which they use to rake over their tongue until blood comes out after that, they lick yellow envelopes called yantra and pass them out to the crowd because they believe that it will bring them good luck and protect them from evil. Each “spirit” are surrounded by a group of followers who wearmatching colors that show their support, The more famous the spirit, the more followers they have.

Meanwhile, on the streets, hundreds of people gather in front of homes and storefronts that has tables of offerings and hope that it will be visited by the “spirit” and they will receive a yantra. During this festival, the streets of Cambodia is alive with all the energy of the young people who dance while being sprayed with hoses and groups of people that shout in happiness because certain spirits approach them or if they receive a yantra.

During Hei Neak Ta or the Parade of Spirits, aside from seeing tongue scraping and cheek piercing,  you will also be able to witness people walking down the road while wearing bejeweled red robes with a line of blood dripping down his chin while other spirits sit on chairs covered in tiny spikes. They believed that people who have the ability to undergo these rituals truly has the mark of spiritual possession.

Picking the Spirits

They believe that all the spirits come to the biggest Chinese temple in Cambodia to gather and take on human form. People will gather at the temple where 90 spirits will inhibit the bodies of the chosen locals. They choose them by seeing who will “feel” the spirit move through them.

If you want to go on an unusual holiday, we suggest that you try and witness Hei Neak Ta in Cambodia because we assure you that it will be quite an experience.