Bonn Pchum Ben is the festival held for commemoration of the spirits of the dead. The highlight is on the 15th day of the waxing moon during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar, called Pheaktrobotr.
The festival does not just begin and end on one day. In fact, it lasts 15 days, each of which is called a day of Kan Ben. A Ben is an offering. The word of Ben is derived from Sanskrit pinda, or balls of rice to be offered to the souls of the dead.During the first 14 days, people take turns offering food to the monks of their local pagoda in the hope that their offering will reach the souls of their ancestors by virtue of the monks’ sermons.
Ancient traditionsInscriptions in stone left by King Yaçovarman (889-910) tell us that he built numerous monasteries during that period, and that pinda were offered on a monthly basis, not only to “abandoned souls” – souls with no family to make offerings to them – but also to souls of combatants who had died for their country.
Rich and poorThe present-day Ben are balls of glutinous rice, cooked in coconut milk and mixed with various ingredients according to local customs. The way a Ben is held also differs slightly from locality to locality.
The final day of Pchum Ben is the most important for all followers. On this day, at every pagoda around the country, the mass collection of offerings (Bens) is dedicated to the souls of ancestors.
If this duty is ignored, it is believed that the soul is cursed and will haunt the neglectful descendents for the rest of the year.
In the early morning of the last day of the Pchum Ben Festival, visitors can join the throngs at the pagodas and take photos of local people of all ages in traditional costume. Women especially, don their best traditional dress, and come wearing their silk, embroidered blouses and scarves, bearing offerings, candles and incense.
Num Onsam and sweet Num Korm (steamed cakes wrapped in banana leaves) are taken to pagodas during the festival to share among participants. Num Onsam is a kind of cylindrical cake of glutinous rice wrapped around a mixture of pork, salt and other ingredients. Num Korm is shaped like a pyramid and made of rice-flour and filled with a coconut and palm sugar mixture.
Money offered to monks goes towards the construction or renovation of temples and community development such as the construction of bridges and schools, tree planting, or as donations to needy families.
Khmers believe that fraternal feelings are fostered with the exchange of food and Num Onsam and Num Korm cakes. This ensures that visitors to any pagoda during the Pchum Ben festival will be warmly welcomed and invited to taste these cakes and enjoy the festivities.
Urns of ancestors placed at the temples are cleaned and taken to a main prayer room. Names of ancestors are listed and invited to in the celebrations, if they do not receive an invite they are unable to receive offerings. At the end of the day participants will join the monks in prayer and chanting in the main prayer room called a ‘viheara’.
Prior to the midday sun, candles and incense sticks are lit and the food preparations are given the monks. The invitation list with names of ancestors are read out loud and then burned. This ritual is performed to allow the ancestral souls to where their families are. It is said to that families then come together to celebrate and commemorate life. After eating the wonderful foods prepared, the monks pray and shower holy water over families and their ancestors. This time is a spiritual time of remembrance and to receive good karma that the ancestors are said to bring them with them.
On the last day of Pchum Ben, the above ceremony is performed on a larger and grander scale. The importance of the last day is centred around those souls who may have bad karma, Priad spirits, as this is the only day that they may receive offerings and it’s said that they could benefit from the good karma going around. It is believed that Priads are afraid of light and will only connect with their living relatives during the darkest day of this lunar cycle, the day of Pchum Ben and receive prayers and offerings.
Reincarnation is deeply enrooted in Cambodian and Buddhist culture, and Pchum Ben is a time of reunion, remembrance and celebration. When families have the opportunity to show appreciation for one's ancestors and show their love for them. The offerings of food and good karma may aid lost souls and guide them back into the cycle of reincarnation. If ancestors are reincarnated, their second chance is to collect good karma for themselves and nurture a peaceful inner spirit this is the final blessing living relatives wish for their ancestors.
Sues’day Bonn Pchum Ben…!!!