October 05, 2010
Preparing for Pchum Ben Festival
For me it means some free days, but locally it is a very important festival..
"This question has been a major topic of the discussion among Cambodians for the past few days – even when they randomly meet for just one second on the street – preparing for the approaching Pchum Ben Festival.
Pchum Ben Festival, the Festival for the Commemoration of the Spirits of the Dead, is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the waxing moon during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar, called Pheaktrobotr – October 7th this year.
So why is that festival so important to the Cambodian society, though for any Buddhist, every living being is reincarnated after its death? Shouldn’t that mean that there is no need to pray for him/her?
Always putting up with the syncretism linking Buddhism, Animism and Brahmanism, Cambodian people believe that souls are still trapped in the spirit world because of their bad Karma. Pchum Ben is then their opportunity to be released back into the living world. These souls will be able to seek absolution and peace for their families. Tradition has it that Yama, the King of Hell, frees those souls found guilty during those 15 days. If, after having looked in at least seven pagodas, these spirits find out they are not part of their close ones’ offerings, they curse their families, who will run out of food the following year. On the contrary, if the family has given enough offerings for these souls, Yama may then decide that they can go back into the living world and reincarnate…
Some technical points on the Pchum Ben’s: Ben is the offering made to the souls. During these 15 days, Cambodian people will bring to the pagoda, along with other offerings, a platter of sticky rice balls (Bay Ben) covered with a conical-shaped banana leaf cover, on top of which are placed some incense, candles and flowers.
They are thrown around the main chanting room of the pagoda before sunrise (so normally from 4am onwards). Strange? There actually is a reason for this (aside from the Cambodians’ obvious taste for unreasonably early rising habit, that is): apparently, souls, who are afraid of the sunrise, wander around that time… but their mouths have become too small! So, of course! it makes sense to throw the bens, so they fall apart and the souls’ little mouths can eat them up.
Well now you know…!!! Make sure that the festival is not over and done with in just one day – it should be 15 days long... From the 1st to the 14th day, it is Kan Ben (Holding the offering) and the last day, the 15th, is called Pchum Ben (Gather for the offering). The most important is not to miss Pchum Ben’s eve, because people will make a lot of special Cambodian cakes (Onsom, Numkom and Nomthmeiy) for offering to the monks and the neighbours, which will generate “good Karma” for their ancestors. On the night of the 14th day, the monks will chant the whole night long until the morning of the last day, when people – whatever they believe – MUST come to the pagoda. Under no circumstances may they miss this important day! The last night, people will make a small boat out of banana tree trunk, fill it up with cakes, and put it in the river to accompany their ancestors back to hell."