In Cambodia's Buddhist traditions, the Festival of the Dead falls on the 15th day of the celebrations called the Dak Ben. During the Dak Ben, each village within a pagoda's jurisdiction must offer food and other gifts to the monks.
On the 15th day, all villagers come together to the pagoda with food and such special treats as sticky rice with pig fat and bean, and cake with banana wrapped inside, traditionally made for the Pchum Ben festival.
Apart from the offerings made through monks during the Dak Ben period, people must also prepare rice mixed with sesame seed. Every morning at 4 AM, the mixture is thrown to the ground around the wat's temple to feed hungry ghosts. On the final day of the festival families bring more offerings to the wats.
They will pray either at the wat or at home, depending on where the urns containing relatives' ashes are. And they will light incense sticks and candles to guide the spirits of their ancestors and relatives to the offerings they have prepared.
Buddhist scholars say the Festival of the Dead stems from the three-month period when Buddha went into retreat during the rainy season. During that time, monks were not allowed to leave the wat overnight, unless their parents were seriously ill, the abbot said. In Buddha's time, the Festival of the Dead lasted for about one month. In later years, it was reduced to 15 days because many families were busy with farming.
During the festival, people also build sand mountains, which represents the release of the sins they have committed during the past years, said 65-year-old Im Roeung. She said some people also build little boats, made of plastic or banana leaves, to carry offerings to the dead.
Like many other Cambodians, Im Roeung said she can't go to seven wats, as Buddha taught, due to economic hardship and transportation problems. But, she added the "Buddha also did not require people to go to all the seven, only one is enough. But the more, the better."
Chhoen Sok, a 58-year-old Takeo farmer, said the Festival of the Dead has another purpose in addition to urging Cambodian Buddhists to bring their offerings to the monks. He said it also marks the "reunion of family members" who come from near and faraway.
Pchum Ben (Khmer: បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ); "Ancestors' Day") is a 15-day Cambodian religious festival, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of the Buddhist lent, Vassa. In 2012, the national holiday fell on the 14th - 16th of October in the Gregorian calendar.
The day is a time when many Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives of up to 7 generations. Monks chant the suttas inPali language overnight (continuously, without sleeping) in prelude to the gates of hell opening, an event that is presumed to occur once a year, and is linked to the cosmology of King Yama originating in the Pali Canon. During the period of the gates of hell being opened, ghosts of the dead (preta) are presumed to be especially active, and thus food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts having the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering; without much explanation, relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also generally imagined to benefit from the ceremonies.
In temples adhering to canonical protocol, the offering of food itself is made from the laypeople to the (living) Buddhist monks, thus generating "merit" that indirectly benefits the dead; however, in many temples, this is either accompanied by or superseded by food offerings that are imagined to directly transfer from the living to the dead, such as rice-balls thrown through the air, or rice thrown into an empty field. Anthropologist Satoru Kobayashi observed that these two models of merit-offering to the dead are in competition in rural Cambodia, with some temples preferring the greater canonicity of the former model, and others embracing the popular (if unorthodox) assumption that mortals can "feed" ghosts with physical food.
Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia, however, there are.
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WHAT does Pchum Ben Festival mean in Buddhism? In the Khmer language, Pchum or Brochum means “a meeting or gathering”. Ben means “a ball of something”, such as rice or meat. The Pchum Ben festival originated in the Angkorian era when people followed animism, before Brahma or Buddhism.
Both Buddhism and animism reflect Khmer respect and remembrance for their ancestors.
Pchum Ben is also a convenient way for Buddhist monks to receive food during the heaviest part of the rainy season while they stay in the pagodas to follow their moral principles.
The first 14 days of the Khmer month Pheakta Bot are called Kan Ben (“observed celebration”). The 15th day is called Brochum Ben or Pchum Ben Day. During Kan Ben, people give Buddhist monks gifts of food and candles. At night Buddhist monks recite a protective prayer. Cambodian artists play traditional music such as yike and lakhon basac. Pchum Ben Day is the biggest celebration. Villagers come from all around to prepare the pagoda of their village the night before the celebration. Pchum Ben is when the villagers gather to celebrate in their villages.
The scriptures relating to the festival are complex, but the first scripture involves the five Buddhas negotiating with hungry ghosts. In the second scripture, from Pet Vuto (Monks’ Governor), the King’s servants and soldiers were commanded to make war. On the ship at night, they met ghosts who were hungry. The servants and soldiers asked: “How can we get food to you?” The ghosts said: “You can offer the food to the person among you who has the five moral conducts or eight moral conducts, and invoke our names.” The third and fourth scriptures say that in the first 15 days of Pheakta Both, the heaviest rainy period, the devil releases the ghosts to find their relatives to receive food.
There are four kinds of ghosts: those eating pus and blood, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungery ghosts and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks. The others cannot receive food from their relatives until their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.
What is bay ben?
Bay ben (balls of rice) are offered to ghosts at dawn. People believe ghosts with heavy sins cannot receive food during the day. Bay ben is made from sticky rice and sesame. Sometimes people add coconut cream to make it more delicious. Buddhist Institute consultant Miech Ponn said he thinks bay ben should be put on a plate. “Getting rice to the poor, people also can get more merit than only giving it to ants,” Miech Ponn said.
Pchum Ben. also known as Ancestors' Day or 'Hungry Ghosts Festival', is a 15-day Cambodian religious festival, which culminates in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, marking the end of the Buddhist lent.
Phcum Ben starts on the first day of the waning moon in the month of Putrobut until the 15th day before the new moon. Each of the the first fourteen days of the festival is called a day of Kan Ban. The 15th and last day is called 'Pchum Ben' and is the start of a two day public holiday.
In Khmer, the language of Cambodia, Pchum means 'to gather together' and Ben means 'a ball of food'. Pchum Ben, also called 'Brochum Ben' is the most important festival in the Khmer religious calendar. The day is a time for Cambodians to pay their respects to their ancestors of up to seven generations.
The Pchum Ben festival dates back to the Angkorian period when the people of the area followed animism (the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls.). Eventually animism was replaced by Buddhism as the prominent religion in the region, however Buddhism and animism both emphasised respect for ancestors, so the ancient customs of Pchum Ben continued and flourished under the newer religion.
It is said that on the first day of Pchum Ben, the gates of hell are opened and the devil releases all the ghosts, some of who are ancestors of the people.
There are four different kinds of ghosts released: those who eat blood and pus, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungry ghosts and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks.
The first three types of ghosts cannot receive food from their relatives until their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.
For the first 14 days of Kan Ban, people will take turns offering gifts of food to the monks in their local pagoda, with the hope that their offering will earn 'merits' that will then reduce the sins of the ghosts of their ancestors.
The people don't know the outcome of these offerings, so this means it becomes an annual tradition to ensure the wellbeing of their ancestors and almost all Cambodians will attempt to make at least one visit to a pagoda during the festival to make these offerings.
The offerings of food during Pchum Ben are welcomed by the Buddhist monks as Pchum Ben usually falls during the heaviest part of the rainy season which makes it harder for the monks to leave their pagodas and receive alms from the local people.
The food offerings are usually 'Bay Ben' (balls of sticky rice and sesame, sometimes flavoured with coconut cream.) and are offered to the ghosts at dawn, as it is believed ghosts with serious sins are not able to receive food during the day.Translate this page
Pchum Ben festival, 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. According to venerable Um Sum, long 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.
III- Why Do Khmer People Prepare Rice Cakes For Pchum Ben?
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.
IV- Why DO People Throw Rice Ball [BAY BEN] At Dawn?
People gather at about 4:00 am and walk around the temple in a procession led by a Buddhist priest. Meanwhile, they say prayers and throw Bay Ben in the direction away from the temple. They believed that evil spirits especially those who have no living relatives are released from hell to come to pagodas to receive food from their relatives at night. They to go back to hell before sun rise. These spirits are in the form of such a big, tall body that they can step over the temple. However, they dare not do so due to the fear that they commit more sin. They would stand crying and asking for food. They would visit seven pagodas to look for their relatives, and get food from them. If they can't see them at one of visited Watts (Wats), evil spirits will impose curses on their relatives. That is why living relatives do their best to offer food, much or less during Dak Ben and Pchum Ben although they have difficulty making ends meet themselves.
To make the story short, Bun Dak Ben or Kan Ben and Pchum Ben is the testimony of practicing our Khmer traditional customs. These customs and traditions make Cambodia a distinct nation in the world.
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