Buddhism has been a part of life in Cambodia since the 5th century. This religion is still very strong at this time. The type of Buddhism that is practiced in Cambodia is called Theravada Buddhism. Theravada is the oldest branch of Buddhism and can be translated as the “teachings from the elders”. Theravada is often seen as the most authentic type of Buddhism that is closest to the essence of the religion and to early Buddhism. There are over 150 million Theravada Buddhists worldwide, called Theravadins. Theravada Buddhism has been the religion of the Cambodian state since the 13th century, but was not practiced during the Khmer Rouge period.
Currently Theravada Buddhism is the faith of 95% of the Cambodian population. The earliest from of Buddhism was introduced in Cambodia by the Hindu merchants, during the Funan kingdom period. Another stream of Buddhists entered Cambodia during the time of the Angkor empire. There have been Buddhist kings such as Jayavarman and Suryavarman, but during the reign of Hindu kings the Buddhist traditions co-existed with the Hindu religion.
Most of the celebrated Cambodian religious annual festivals are closely connected with Buddhism. The chol chnam festival (New Year ) takes place in April. This was one of the religious festivals that were allowed to be celebrated during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Meak bochea festival is celebrated in January or February to remember the last sermon of the Buddha. Vissakh bochea is celebratedin April or in May, and this is the triple anniversary of both the birth, death, and the enlightenment of the Buddha. There is the chol vossa festival in July, which focuses on the beginning of the period in the year during which monks must remain within their own temple compounds.
The kathen festival marks the end of this period. This is celebrated in September and offerings are made to the monks.
Nowadays Cambodian Buddhism exists together with (and mixes with) Brahman practice and religion. Many Cambodians have a strong belief in the supernatural world and see treatment supported by the realm of the supernatural when ill. Local spirits are very much kept alive in shrines and Buddhist temples that can be found by roads and in forests.
There are no administrative or otherwise formal ties between the Theravada monks and other Buddhist bodies. It is possible for Theravada monks from other countries (such as Thailand) to join in with ceremonies and celebrations. Regulations dating from 1943 organize Cambodian Buddhism and during the monarchical period the kind would automatically be the leader of the Buddhist clergy. After this period the head of state would appoint leaders of the clergy and the monastic orders.
Since the 80s the number of active Buddhist monks and students has grown from 5000 to 50,000. This big revival of Buddhism was mainly caused by villagers who want to claim back their own Khmer Buddhist way of living. Temples were rebuilt and restored and new monks were ordained every year. Cambodia's Buddhism is alive and doing well, as can be experienced and witnessed by visiting the many Buddhist temples and monasteries.