Pchum Ben or Ancestors’ festival is one of the longest festivals in Cambodia, lasting for 15 days. It is the Buddhism religious festival, which is celebrated every year on the 10th month, Pheaktrobot of the Khmer calendar (which is in September or October). It is also one of the very special festivals for Cambodians as they get three days off from work and this year the national holiday fell on 27, 28, and 29 of September. It is very special because it is the time for someone who works far away from home go back to meet and enjoy with their families and relatives at their hometowns.
What are the meanings of Pchum Ben Festival?
The word ‘Pchum or Brochum’ mean a meeting or gathering, and the word ‘Ben’ means the ball of rice, so Pchum Ben means that large numbers of people gather together at the pagoda to offer food including the ball of rice to the monks. The 15 days celebration is actually divided into two, from the 1st day to the 14th day, is called “Kan Ben Day”, means that the villagers from each village take turn to offer food to the monks”, and the last day is called “Ben Thom or Pchum Ben Day”, a huge crowded day, that all villagers from surrounded pagoda come together to offer food to the monks.
All Cambodians always remember and understand that Pchum Ben is the festival that they offer food to the monks at the pagoda and dedicate their good deeds and food to their parents, and their relatives who might be born in the bad places, especially, if they are born at the Beta place, one of the bad places, where the Beta ghost are suffered from starvation or many other conditions. But according to the article of Mr. Song Siv, there are three meanings of celebrating Pchum Ben Festival:
- To dedicate the good deeds/food to the Beta ghosts who they might be their parents or relatives, so they can reborn to a good place or have food to eat.
- To do good deeds for themselves, so this will bring them in return as living in happiness and prosperity in the present life and next life (after they died).
- To make good unity between people and people in the community as well as the whole country
Why they celebrate Pchum Ben Festival?
In the ancient time, this festival is specially celebrated to offer food to the monks who just stayed in the pagoda during the rainy season for three months because this season the monks could not go asking for alms due to difficulties of walking on the flooded, slippery and bad roads. Later on, the festival is celebrated for only 15 days due to a busy work of people, which they celebrate this festival for offering food to the monks, to dedicate their merits to their parents, their relatives, and ancestors, and doing a good deed for themselves. Buddhists really believe in Karma, they believe in the word “If they do good deed, good things will be returned, if they do bad deed, bad things will be returned”, which is not only in present but also for their next life as well, so celebrating Pchum Ben is a must-do for most of Cambodians.
How people celebrate Pchum Ben Festival?
During the first 14 days, villagers in each village, or individuals or groups take a turn to offer food to the monks at their pagoda. Each day, they buy food from the market and cook at the pagoda and some villagers bring from homes. Also, they also make the ball of rice (made with sticky rice and sesame), which called Bay Ben. People get up in the very early morning around 4 pm, bring their Bay Ben to the pagoda to get the bless from the monks and then take their Bay Ben to spread on the ground to offer to the starvation Beta ghosts who they believe they can eat that rice. Then they prepare breakfast and lunch for the monks, listen to the monk chant, monk Dharma speaking, and monk blessing. At the end, they dedicate their merits to their parents, relatives and their ancestors who have passed away.
The 15th day, the last day of the festival which is called Ben Thom or Pchum Ben is the special day because all families, parents, and children bring food, a bunch of flowers, Bay Ben to the pagoda and offer to the monks.