Cam­bo­dia FES­TI­VAL MUST-SEE: PCHUM BEN EX­PE­RI­ENCE PCHUM B EN

Septem­ber 24–Oc­to­ber 8, 2018 (Oc­to­ber 8–10 are the three of­fi­cial hol­i­days)

Asian Geographic - - Southeast Asia -

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.

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