P’chum Ben Festival

September 23, 2017

Hello All, and thank you for following me. This week was the week of the P’Chum Ben Festival

also known as “Ancestors’ Day” is one of Cambodia’s most important Buddhist festivals. The festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead. It is a 15-day celebration and these 15 days are called Pchum season. The festival is based on the principles of Karma and reincarnation. While most people are believed to be reincarnated after death, those with bad karma can be trapped in the spirit world or hell and that they are unable to be reincarnated. It is also believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and burn in hell. They suffer a lot and are tortured there. Hell is far from us and those souls and spirits cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear and no food to eat. According to Buddhist beliefs, what we experience after death is determined by the actions that we took when we were living. The punishment for minor infractions may include being an unattractive ghost or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat. But with more severe sins, a punishment could include being crippled or having no mouth at all. It is also believed that being greedy, envious or jealous in one’s life can lead to one becoming a hungry ghost after death.

This is believed to be the time that the guardians of hell release all hungry ghosts to come to earth so that their living relatives can bring them food, fruits, cakes as an offering to the monks at the pagoda and dedicate merit to them. Many Cambodian people believe that preparing food for the Buddhist monks is an act that transfers merit to the hungry ghosts while many believe that the food itself is transferred from the monks to their ancestors. The souls and spirits would come to the pagoda as they hope to receive offerings from their relatives through the prayers recited by the Buddhist monks. When the living relatives offer food to the spirits, the spirits will bless them with happiness and success.

This was the information I had received during my training in regards to the festival.

The festival takes place at the Wat. I celebrated the event with my host family at the local pagoda followed by an amazing meal. If I understood correctly, the Wat that is pictured was built during the 15th century. During the 1970’s, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed many of these ancient Wats. Anything or anybody that he considered a threat was destroyed. People with educational degrees including doctors and teachers were killed. Even those who wore glasses were considered a threat because it was a sign of intelligence. There is much more to come on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in future posts. The Wats were a center of education and culture and therefore were a threat to Pol Pot. This Wat happened to have been spared.

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Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
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