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Pchum Ben Festival

Pchum Ben Festival Or Festival of the Death

Pchum Ben is one of the most important the annual traditional festivals. Cambodia celebrates this festival from generation to generation and never misses it. It usually falls in late September. It is held from the first day of the waning moon in Putrobut month to the last day which takes 15 days according to Khmer lunar calendar. The ceremony from the first day to the 14th day is called "Kan Ben or Dak Ben" including Ben one, Ben two, etc. ", and the 15th day, last day of the festival is termed "Pchum Ben". The word Pchum means gathering, and Ben, Pali word means ball of rice. Therefore, the word Pchum Ben means gathering or meeting of rice ball or Bay Ben in Khmer.Khmer people believe that Pchum Ben festival is to offer Bay Ben to dead relatives and ancestors who are not know whether or not they are already release from hell and reborn.

Pchum Ben festival is originally related to Chaol Vassa festival (interring the rainy season) and the Kathin festival. Long Time ago Buddhist monks had to walk everywhere to ask for alms no matter how bad the weather was. Later during his reign, King Jayavarman, a strong advocate of Buddhism supported and provided Buddhist monks with the four requisite: clothing, food, shelter and medicine. The king realized that when the monks walked to ask for alms during the rainy season, they encountered heavy rain, thunderstorms, lightning and violent winds.

The monks could not walk and fell down on the muddy paths. The king felt great sympathy for them and so asked them not to go for alms for three months every rainy season. And he appealed to all his compatriots to offer food, and other basic needs to the monks for this period. Also, Buddhist followers explained that there was much merit in offering alms to the monks. As a result, more and more people offered the four requisites to the monks. This trend led to the creation of another bible about Pchum Ben festival. The bible read that there was a powerful senior monk who could visit the blazing hell. When he arrived there, an open lotus as big as a wooden wheel of a Khmer ox cart appeared for his ride. He could fly about hell without suffering from the blaze.

The creatures of dead person were very impressed by his visit and gave him a very warm welcome. The monk preached to them. Before he returned, those creatures asked the monk to inform their living relatives that they were suffering from hell fire, starvation, and diseases. The living relatives should offer monks the four requisite in order to release them from this suffering. On his return the senior monk conveyed the message to the king. The monarch ordered that all people celebrate Kan Ben, which lasts 15 days to dedicate merit to dead relative during the rainy season. The Kan Ben and Pchum Ben tradition has existed since then.

Many people wonder why we prepare only rice cakes- the cylindrical ones sticky rice preserved with pork and mung beans or banana wrapped in banana leaves and boiled and pyramidal ones. Khmer people originally practiced Brahmanism, and latter they switch to Buddhism. However, Brahmanism still influences their religious observances. It is believed that cylindrical rice cakes symbolize Shiva that is in the form of phallus (Linga), and pyramidal ones stand for Uma, Shiva's wife in the form of vulva-shaped emblem of power. They are the god and goddess of Brahmanism. On the other hand, it is explained that Buddhist followers offer too much food to monks during the Pchum Ben. The monks could not consume all the food at one time. Some food may become spoilt. Only rice cakes could be kept for a long time by grilling them. The other most common dish is clear noodle soup or fried Chinese noodle because dead relatives may become Brat [evil spirits] with a gigantic body but with a very small mouth. It is believed that (according to Brahmanism) they can eat only food like noodles

 By doing this, Cambodians show respect for their ancestors. Everyone goes to the pagoda every year to honor this tradition, and nobody complains.

 The Buddhist belief, people feel sorry for and remember their relatives who have passed away. "They may be their parents, grandparents, a sister, a brother, daughter or son."During Phchum Ben, souls and spirits come to receive offerings from their living relatives,

"It is believed that some of the dead receive punishment for their sins and burn in hell - they suffer a lot and are tortured there," he added. "Hell is far from people; those souls and spirits cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear, no food to eat," Om Sam Ol continued. "Phchum Ben is the period when those spirits receive offerings from their living relatives and perhaps gain some relief. Relatives consecrate and dedicate food and other offerings to them."

Everyone goes to the pagoda because they don't want the spirits of dead members of their family to come to seek offerings at pagodas in vain. It is believed that wondering spirits will go to look in seven different pagodas and if those spirits can not find their living relatives' offering in any of those pagodas, they will curse them, because they cannot eat food offered by other people."When the living relatives offer the food to the spirit, the spirit will bless them with happiness.

Finally made an offering, but he did not dedicate the offering to the spirits of his relatives. All the spirits that were related to him cried that night. And when King Bath Pempeksa went to the Valovan pagoda to visit the Buddha, he was told by the Buddha that, "All the spirits of your relatives are crying, demanding food. The spirits should get food in the realm of Kathakot. Although you offered food and did good deeds, you did not dedicate the food and good deeds to them." So King Bath Pempeksa made another dedication and offering, and this time he dedicated the food and merits to his relatives. The evil spirits received the dedication and were finally reborn into paradise.

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