Pchum Ben, which falls on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month, will be celebrated on September 16, 2020, and marks the start of a 15 day religious festival in Cambodia. The Cambodian buddhists believe that every year the souls of their ancestors are released for 15 days. Pchum Ben marks the start of the journey of souls to purgatory, that in-between place that is neither heaven nor hell. The course of their journey will be decided by their karma and by the offerings made by their living relatives during Pchum Ben. This festival begins at the end of the Buddhist Lent. During this time, foods are cooked for the monks to generate merits that will benefit the dead.
History of Pchum Ben
The 15-day ceremony of Pchum Ben is a time for Cambodians to honor their previous seven generations of ancestors. The first 14 days are known as “Kan Ben” and during this time families gather at nearby pagodas, offering food and prayers to their ancestors to save them from bad karma. The belief is that deceased relatives wait at the pagodas for their loved ones to return to them.
“Ben Thom” on Day 15 sees families bring baskets full of flowers and children offering sticky rice cake to the monks. This is the main festival day and everyone dresses up for the occasion. Cambodians believe their actions on earth shape their appearance as a ghost after death. By praying and offering food during Pchum Ben, the family is helping their ancestors pass on to a better life as well as ensuring their ancestors don’t get angry and curse them.
The festival dates back to the Middle Ages and is among the most important holidays in Cambodia. Nowadays students and workers will return back to their families to observe Pchum Ben with them and make their offerings.