Pchum Ben is a Festival for the Dead

Cambodia is celebrating the annual Buddhism’s Pchum Ben Festival which is the major Buddhist festival from September 13 to 28 to dedicate offerings to their relatives who have passed away so as to ask back blesses from their dead members.

Meaning of the Festival:

The word ‘Ben’ in Khmer means to collect; ‘Ben’ also means to cup or mould cooked rice into portions. The word ‘Phchum’ means to congregate or to meet together. Regardless how busy they may be during the fifteen days of Pchum Ben, Cambodian people try not to miss a visit to the pagoda to dedicate food and offerings to the dead, according to the Buddhist document.

According to a Cambodian monk, it is believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and burn in hell – they suffer a lot and are tortured there. Hell is far from people; those souls and spirits cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear, no food to eat. Thus, Pchum Ben is the period when those spirits receive offerings from their living relatives and perhaps gain some relief.

Cambodians who are Buddhist go 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.

That’s the reason, from September 13, Cambodians who are Buddhists prepare foods, and offerings to visit to far or near pagodas entire the country aiming to give those offerings to monks and dedicate it to their dead relatives wishing the dead members receive the offerings.

The first day of the religious festival is called Ben 1; the 14th day is called Ben 14, and the 15th day, which is the final day, is called Pchum Ben day marking the end of the festival, the time those dead members are order to return to the hell, and will come back another Pchum Ben next year.

History of Pchum Ben:

Many different documents and perspectives have been contributed just on the history of this single festival.

According to Venerable Sophany from Saravan Techo Phnom Penh Pagoda, Pchum Ben may had been introduced to the people since the reign of King Jayavaraman VII, but believe it is clearly existed in Long Vek period.

“The festival may have been founded since the period of King Jayavaraman VII, but it is just Buddhism was dominated by Hinduism that time. Though, many monasteries have been built and left from Long Vek era.” Venerable said. “Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Langa also celebrate similar festivals like Cambodia’s Pchum Ben day.”

Buddhism has been implanted into the Kingdom since the 3rd Century B.C.E. and the belief has been enshrined from His Majesty the King to citizens nationwide until Buddhism has been constitutionally made as the state religion in 1993.

Pchum Ben a comfortable occasion for travelling:

Noticeably, Pchum Ben is also a good occasion where people can return to homelands, reunite the relatives and families. Therefore, this religious festival is also served as pleasure time for domestic tourism movements where people besides visiting far and near monasteries and relatives, they also can visit the tourist sites making the festival a busy time of the year.

Anyway, the traffic is also busy during this time. In Phnom Penh, thousands of people who are provincial natives move out from the cities to their homelands, causing the traffic more congested than normal. In the countryside people travel to the pagodas, and traffic congestions are not so serious there, but crowed in the monasteries.

Government policy to promote peaceful religion development:

Al though, Buddhism has been recognized as the state religion since 1993 practiced by majority, Cambodia also promoted other local religions aiming at forming an inter-religious harmony nation.

There are 335 mosques surrounding the country being respected by 482,863 Cambodian Islam, while Christianity respecting by Cambodians accounted of 9,111 Catholics and 80,141 Protestants, report from ministry of cults and religion states.

The report added that today Cambodia is covered by 4,466 pagodas; the figure of which 4,307 are Mahanikay pagodas and 159 are Thommayut. From both sects, there is total amounted of 56,301 monks; 54,861 Mahanikay counted, whereas 1,443 are Thommayut monks.

Samdech Chea Sim, Cambodian Senate President stressed out the government policy guaranteeing the freedom of creeds.

“The Government determined the right policy by respecting freedom of religious faith, promoting Buddhism as the state religion and build up friendly climate for other religious developments under the people unity’ base, political stability and social order; moreover the government also deterred faithful discriminations and social division cause by diversified beliefs and religions,” he said.

In conjunction, the Prime Minister Hun Sen used to suggest speeding up of administrative procedure for promoting monks to various positions to help develop Secularism.

“Whenever the secular world is making progress and sustaining development, the people’s living condition is generally better. On the other hand, if the secular world experiences any setbacks whether war or natural calamity, which destabilizes people’s daily life and income, there will be less food and contribution to the Buddhist monks too. This is what everyone should see as correlation between the two worlds – secularism and Buddhism,” he demonstrated.

Photo by epidemiks

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