Cambodian Pchum Ben Festival

Uncategorized / Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I’ve been amiss updating my blogs since I’ve been quite busy with other web projects and coincidentally, the rest of Cambodia has been celebrating the Pchum Ben Festival. So it was holiday for sometime, with lots of going ons specially around the markets and of course, the pagodas. This festival has a solemn quality to it with most people going to pagodas for prayers.

Pchum Ben Festival is a religious festival, and is one of the most celebrated festivals among Khmers. For them, this time is for the Commemoration of the Spirits of the Dead. The festival usually falls on the first few days of September. On the Khmer calendar, the Pchum Ben Festival is on the 15th day of the waxing mmoon on the 10th month, also referred to as the Pheaktrobotr. And this festival lasts for 15 days.

The Pchum Ben Festival is so much a part of Cambodia culture whose daily lives are intertwined with Buddhist religion. This time is where Khmers pray for their departed loved ones and would visit the pagodas and give offerings for their dead loved ones whom they believe are trapped in the spirit world.

Khmer blogger Kim Heang has a good collection of Pchum Ben photos. Check out his blog and find really good photos as well as write ups about Cambodian culture and traditions.

Within the 15 days of the Pchum Ben Festival, Khmers bring offerings to the pagodas. Offerings usually consist of sticky rice balls and cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They also place incense, flowers as well as candles with these offerings.They also bring cooked rice as well as some more home-cooked Cambodian dishes which they share to the monks. The rice is the also divided and placed on several containers.

Trooping to pagodas for the offerings usually happens early in the morning as they also believe that most souls are afraid of sunrise and would wander around during dawn or early in the morning.

The festival is held for 15 days (:D bit long isn’t it??) and the first 14 days is called Kan Ben or holding the offering and last day is called the Phcum Ben or the Gathering for the Offering. The last day is specially important for the Khmers, and they would all go to the pagodas, usually make small boats from banana trunks, fill it up with rice cakes and let if float in the rivers to journey with their loved ones.

This festival is another fascinating insight to the Cambodia culture. My in-laws are Chinese-Cambodians and their rituals varies slightly from these but I was nonetheless fascinated by it. One difference I’ve noticed is that among Chinese they have a small altar at home built for their ancestors and that is where they offer food and prayers instead of going to a pagoda. However, they would pick one day out of the 15 day festival and also go to several pagodas for offerings the same way as Khmers.

We have also opted to visit pagodas that are farther out from the city. Most of these pagodas are really out of the way and the offerings and donations are much more needed by the monks..

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