Pchum Ben or Ancestors’ Day is the biggest religious festival for Cambodian Buddhists to pray for their dearly departed relatives. The whole ceremony takes up 15 days of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar. This year, Pchum Ben starts on Saturday, Sept 14, at the end of the Buddhist ‘Lent’.
Pchum in Khmer language means ‘coming together’ and Ben means ‘a ball of food (sticky rice, sesame seeds and maybe coconut milk)’.
Buddhists believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors will be freed to be given offerings during Pchum Ben. Cambodian Buddhists usually prepare their veneration of food offerings to the monks– who feed the hungry ghosts at dawn – at pagodas and pray for their ancestors. The ghosts of their ancestors will thus earn merits to reduce their sins.
Buddhists also give offerings to bad spirits. During early morning at the pagodas, monks will pray for them. Those who wish to give offerings to hungry spirits can bring a pack of rice and place it in a pagoda area.
Pchum Ben Festival (which dates back to Angkorian times when people followed Animism… that the universe itself possesses souls, before it was replaced with Buddhism) is also a national holiday for Cambodia. The whole country is offered three days off work at the closing days of the festival, from September 27 to 29.