Pchum Bèn Festival in Cambodia
Have you ever heard about Pchum Bèn festival?
It is one of the main two very important Buddhist Festivals in Cambodia – besides Khmer New Year -, and is also known as Ancestors’ Festival.
The ceremony is held for 15 days starting from the first until the fifteenth of Khmer Lunar month calendar called “Pheaktrobot” (between September and October in our Western calendar).
This year, the first day of the festival fell on September 14th (Bèn 1) and the most important days will be September 27, 28 and 29 (also known as “Pchum Bèn / the “Reunion of All Bèn”),ending the celebration and the Fortnight of Ancestors.
A bit similar to All Souls’ Day in Anglo-Saxon countries or to “La Toussaint” in France, Pchum Bèn is a time of the year when Khmer people remember, commemorate and “feed” their deceased ancestors.
Based on local belief, people are being reincarnated at death. Some families do not properly take care of their deceased parents and the souls of those will no rest in peace “and keep wandering in space and time”; on the contrary, during Pchum Bèn festival, those unhappy souls will come back and wander around in pain, searching for food, especially next to their homes. They are considered as ”hungry ghosts or spirits”. That is why during the first 14 days of the festival, families go to the neighboring pagodas to make different types of offerings to the monks, so this will supposedly appease the “lost souls” which will stop bother their living relatives, as they are supposed to give alms to – if not one -, but to seven wats in remembrance of their lost ancestors over seven generations.
While the word “Pchum” means in Khmer “to gather together”, the word “Bèn” means “to collect” and it also mean “to take a portion” of cooked rice or meat. So you have it all in the name of the festival!
During Pchum Bèn, pagodas are usually crowded with people coming to give offerings to the monks, who help pass them to their deceased relatives. Offerings are various: food (especially “bay ben “or sticky rice balls), flowers, money, clothes, and other basic necessities for the monks and community at the wat to sustain during the rainy season where monks are not supposed to leave the premises of the pagoda.
It is a great opportunity for travelers to visit pagodas at that time of the year to feel the very special atmosphere of that festival.
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