Pchum Ben Festival
Pchum Ben is one of the most important festivals in Cambodia. Its lasts 15 days from the first of Photerbot (Khmer Month) Spirits commemoration festival is held for spirits of dead. Bonn Dak Ben offering of the foods to the monks that lasts the 15 days.
The 15th day the ceremony “the waning month day” is calling Benn Pchum Ben, the collection of the bens (offerings). During this festival, if departed souls do not found their families making offering at any pagodas. It is believed that the souls will curse and bother the descendants through out the year.
Cambodia people believed that the ghosts and sinful spirits are afraid of the light. That is why, the festival is held during the waning month of Photerbot when evil spirits and sinful ghosts are set free by king of death to visit their existing relatives. The king of the death allows them to ascend to the earth to visit their relatives.
At their arrival, they will search seven Pagodas for foods that their relatives offer them through the monks. If they can not found, they will get angry with their descendants and will curse and bother them through out the year. There are some kind of insects that people have always thought that they are the sinful spirit who committed much sin in their former lives, can only bee seen during the Pchum Ben’s day.
King Yasovarman, (889 – 910), was the first person to celebrate this festival. He prepared the Ben rice to worship the spirit of the heroes and heroines who had passed away in the war. The 15th days’ festival in the month of Photerbot is called “Kan Ben” which English means the participations in Pchum Ben “Ben” in Pali means “a piece of rice”
Currently, Ben is a piece of the sweet rice cooked with coconut milk. For the first day of Kan Ben, people put a piece of Ben rice in a bowl and gradually add another piece each day until it reaches 15 pieces. In some area, they put eight rafters of rice in eight directions. Each rafter has one piece of Ben rice. According our custom, we take Ben rice home to be use in final day.
Apart from Ben rice, we make Ben flowers to dedicate to Cholamony’s Stupa in heaven in which the Buddha’s hair was made in a bun when he entered monkshood. From the every first day of waning month of Photerbot, laymen and laywomen gather around pagodas to listens to the monk’s sermon. The one who arrives first has to drum to signalize to other laypeople. After hearing the signal, people bring Ben rice to pagodas. Before entering the temple, they have to walk in procession for three times. There are two kinds of sermons. One is dedicating the foods to the ghosts; another is to wake the sun to rise.
One day before Pchum Ben, people prepare the Khmer traditional broths to their ancestors. At pagodas, they clean the temples and pagodas’ campuses. Then they invite the monks to chant scripture and then they preach sermon to consecrate to the dead, and to perform the coronation of Buddha’s Status.
In the evening of the same day, people gather around the worship their ancestors; they lay out mats covered with white color cloth and white pillows. Between both sides of the mates, they place foods, desert and Ben rice. The oldest of the families kindle the incenses and candles to invite spirit of the dead to come for dinner and to ask the spirit to bless them in return. At dawn of the next day, the descendants make the rafter make of banana tree, loaded with rice, to drift away from their ancestor to take their places. In same houses, they perform festival as the last evening to pray to the village God to bless them. They perfume the horns of the cattle to ask for forgiveness that they had uses them for their work for the whole year. Farmers scatter Ben rice in the paddy fields to ask for fruitful produces later on.