Cambodian Pchum Ben Days – Ancestor Day

Pchum Ben Days

Pchum Ben is a Cambodian annual religious festival. It’s celebrated from the 1st to the 15th day of the waxing moon of the 10th Lunar month, Phutrobot (ភទ្របទ). Pchum means ” gathering together” and Ben means ” offering “. Thus Pchum Ben may translated as Gathering together to make offering. For Cambodian Buddhists believe that after dead, people would involving reincarnation. But for the bad karma that people did during the living, their souls would be stored in hell to receive suffering as punishment. It’s believe that the gates of the hell are opened and the ceased may visit their relatives for 15 days. During this time, foods are offering to the monks (cham hanh) everyday in every pagoda, as it’s the way to generate merit that indirectly benefits the ceased.

Traditionally there is a pagoda in one village, and for the 15 days of Pchum Ben, the villager would devide into 14 groups. Each group responsible for one day of foods offering to the monks of their local pagoda. This process is called ” Kan Ben ” means hosting offerings. During each day, it’s a good chance for the families who are hosting the offerings to recited loudly of their ancestors name, so that they are invited to receive their offerings. Because they cannot receive the merit or offerings without invitation. Day 15th is the last day also the day that celebrated in greater form, which the pagoda would be crowed than other days. Everyone would make offerings to the monks on this main day to ensure that their dead relatives could receive it. Since the last day is doing in generally for all the ceased.

Monks are sitting in lines at their lunch table with full of foods offered by Buddhists on the 4th day of Pchum Ben Festival. Taken in Sa-ang Phnom pagoda, Sep 16, 2011.

It’s said that if someone who make offerings to the monks in seven different pagodas, they would earn a lot of merits for their dead relatives and also themselves. Or at least three pagodas to ensure that their ancestors received their offerings. Pchum Ben focus mainly on ancestors, so people would prepare good foods which are the favorites of their ancestors and make offering to the monks.

People light candles, burn insence sticks, praying with flowers during Pchum Ben Day at their pagoda.

Pchum Ben Day – Foods offering to monks consist of rice and foods. After received by monks, foods are transferred to dishes, and rice must be put in the amls (the rice container of the monk, usually carrying in daily food quest) prepared in line, this is call Roib Bart. Put into each aml a spoon of rice.

Pchum Ben Day – Buddhists build phnom ksach (sand mount) to release the sins have been perform in the life.

Cambodian traditional music team, playing during Pchum Ben Day

Bos Bay Ben (Throwing rice-balls ceremony)

During Pchum Ben days, the throwing rice-balls ceremony is performed everyday in the early time of the new day started at around 2am to 4am. The lay people prepared the rice-balls and gathering at the pagoda. After the monks recited Dharma, together with Aja (the man who leads Buddhist ceremony), they walk around Preah Vihear (main building of Buddha sanctuary) for three rounds while throwing the rice-balls into an empty field, or into the shrub, or just on the ground. This ceremony is help to offer foods releasing the the hunger of the ceased who has no living relatives and having bad sins, which are called “Bret” (hell spirit). Those hell spirits cannot eat the food which is clean or been good prepared. That’s why the rice-balls must be thrown into the ground to make it dirty. Also they cannot eat at day time when the sun rises.

History of Pchum Ben Days

Pchum Ben is a very old tradition in Cambodia. Stone inscriptions left by King Yosavarman (889-910) say that he has built many monasteries and offered rice to the monks on a monthly basis, on behalf of  “abandoned souls” who had no family to make offerings for them, and for souls of his soldiers who had died in war.

According to legend, the festival was established when King Bath Pempiksa defied religious custom and ate food before making offerings to the monks during a religious ritual. After their death, the monks became hungry ghosts and have found the Buddha to asked, “When can we eat?” The Buddha said they must wait until the appearance of the Buddha of the future, Maitreya. Then when they met the Buddha of the future, the hungry ghost-monks asked the same question, and he replied, “You must wait until King Bath Pempiksa made offerings and dedicates the merit to you.”

Num Ansom (Khmer stickly rice cake)

Num ansom is a cake made of sticky rice with filled of green bean and pork. It’s wrapped in the banana leaf, and tie up with string. The cake is about 20-25 cm long and about 5-6 cm in diameter.

Num Ansom – Sticky Rice Cake, Cambodian traditional cake

On Pchum Ben days every year, Cambodians make num ansom as it’s a kind of traditional events. And only on Pchum Ben occasion that num ansom was widely wrapped by almost every house in the countryside. Num ansom serves several purposes during Pchum Ben days.

1. Num ansom is treated as special cake since ancient time of Cambodia. So during Pchum Ben having num ansom to make offering to the monks as a form to reach their dead relative as well.

2. Num ansom can be kept for month, so it’s a good food for the monks. Because Pchum Ben is within three months rainy retreat, in which the monks don’t go out for making an alms.

3. Num ansom is a special gift for people from the city visiting their home land during Pchum Ben. Everyone when back from their home land, would bring back along with many num ansom to share to friends in the city, as well as to keep for eating many days later.

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