This week is a big holiday in Cambodia. For our family it means a few days off work to do some sightseeing around here, but for the people here it means so much more. On the 15th day of the 10th month in the Khmer Calendar, which falls on Sept 26-28 of our calendar this year, Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben. It’s a pretty interesting holiday, so I thought you might like to learn about it, too. Here is a summary of what I’ve learned.
Other cultures have holidays similar to this, but Pchum Ben, also known as Ancestor’s Day is only celebrated in Cambodia. It is a time when locals believe the gates of hell are opened and the spirits of their dead ancestors walk the earth. The ancestors may leave hell for a temporary time or may have a chance to end their time there. Most have to return to suffer more, and to ease their suffering, the people bring food offerings to the temples. Ancestors not in hell (reincarnated or in heaven) supposedly benefit as well. Many of the Cambodians travel to their home province from wherever they are and participate with extended family members. For 15 days, they travel to temples and give food, which they believe helps to ease the passing of their dead relatives. This time leads up the the 15th day, Pchum Ben, which is actually a 3 day holiday during which most businesses, schools, and offices are closed.
According to Buddhist beliefs, the people have a life after death and that life is impacted by the way they live during their true life. In general, if you do small sins while living, you get small punishments and if you do really bad things, you get really big punishments after death. Some punishments include having a crippled or ugly ghost, or having a small mouth or even no mouth at all. Because of this, the people feed them with rice so that even those with small mouths can partake. They feed them by throwing the rice on the ground or in the air at the wat (temple). This starts as early as 4am but continues all day. Later in the day people return to the wat with offerings for the monks who live there. They offer clothes, money, shoes, and most often, food. Poor people sit outside the temples during this time hoping to also receive food or money. Giving to the monks and the poor shows good merit that can help their own afterlives be better. In Buddhism, the merits during Pchum Ben have potential to cancel out the bad things they have done. The people also spend much of the day praying to their dead relatives.
In ancient times, this festival lasted for 3 months, ending on the 15th day of their 10th month, but now it usually goes for 15 days. During the 15 days, the Cambodians visit as many of the temples as they can. Visiting seven temples is ideal but they believe that visiting even one brings them good merit. Because the last 3 days are holidays from work and school, this is the time most people visit their families and participate.
And here are some links I used as sources if you want to read more about it. I will let you know what my personal experience teaches me after the end of Pchum Ben.