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Pchum Ben Day

Pchum Ben Day, Cambodia
Pchum Ben Day, Cambodia

Pchum Ben Day (Khmer: បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ – Ancestors’ Day”) is a Cambodian budisht and Brahmanism Festival, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer Calendar ( the lunar month of Pot-bot) where Cambodian pay respect to their ancentors and spirt deceased.

Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia, however, there are merit-transference ceremonies that can be closely compared to it in Sri Lanka (benefitting the ghosts of the dead), and, in its broad outlines, it even resembles the Taiwanese Ghost Festival (i.e., especially in its links to the notion of a calendrical opening of the gates of hell, King Yama, and so on).

The festival present that – This is a time when the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth. And the living can ease their suffering by offering them food to eat. According to Buddhist beliefs, the lives that we live, after death, are predicated by the actions that we took when we were living. Minor infractions would be punished with small punishments, such as being an unattractive ghost or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat. Other, more severe, punishments could include being crippled or having no mouth at all.

During the period of the gates of hell being opened, ghosts of the dead are presumed to be especially active, and thus food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts having the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering; without much explanation, relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also generally imagined to benefit from the ceremonies.

It is a very familiar festivity. Most Cambodians go back to their birth places, joining the extended family to pay honor to their decease relatives and ancestors. Schools, offices and commerce are closed during the three main days of the festivity. The deceased that are considered without living relatives, are also remembered in the pagodas. Early morning the families prepared a special sacred food made of sticky rice. The family goes together to the nearby pagoda and offers the food to the ancestors. They walk around the temple three times in prayerful attitude with incense and chants. They offer also money and other gifts that are used by the bonzis either for their own maintenance (that is not too much of course) and for the poor. If you notice, in many pagodas there is often a small troop of orphans that are actually feeding and educated by the bonzis. Giving money to the pagodas is actually a good social action.

At midday the families return to the pagoda to present more offerings that will help in cancelling your own sins and helping the poor. The last day of the Pchum Ben is the most special, with everybody dressing in their best clothes and the family going to the pagoda with flowers and other special presents for the bonzis. They dedicate the last prayers to their ancestors helping them in their travel through a better ‘life.’ According to the traditions, those who do not pay respect to their ancestors, will be cursed by them.

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