Cambodia FESTIVAL MUST-SEE: PCHUM BEN EXPERIENCE PCHUM B EN
September 24–October 8, 2018 (October 8–10 are the three official holidays)
The Pchum Ben festival – also called “Ancestor’s Day” – is very important to the Khmer people, as it conveys their respect to the ancestors, who are believed to return to Earth during September and October. Much like the month of the Hungry Ghosts in Chinese culture, Pchum Ben sees Khmer people present offerings of food, incense and money to assist their ancestors in the spirit world (the Khmer word pchum means to “congregate”; ben means “to collect”). It is one of the most colourful festivals in the Cambodian calendar: Pagodas are decorated, and people wear their best clothes.
Pchum Ben is premised on the Buddhist belief in karma and reincarnation. Most people are assumed to be reincarnated, but those with bad karma are thought to get trapped in limbo in the spirit world. During Pchum Ben, these trapped souls are released to find their living relatives and repent. Cambodians pray for their souls – and feed them.
Legend goes that after relatives of King Bath Pempeksa defied custom and ate before monks present at a religious ritual, they died, and became evil spirits. The spirits begged several Buddhas for the right to eat, but each one told the spirits to wait for the enlightenment of the next. The Buddha Preah Samphot told the spirits that their relative, King Bath Pempeksa, would offer them a dedication of food, but he then failed to dedicate the offering to his ancestors, leaving them devastated. King Pempeksa went to the Valovan pagoda, and the Buddha told him of his ancestors’ plight. So, King Bath Pempeksa made another offering, and dedicated it to his ancestors. The spirits ate, and shed their sin; they were finally able to be reborn.