Pchum Ben, which falls on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month, will be celebrated on September 16, 2020, and marks the start of a 15 day religious festival in Cambodia. The Cambodian buddhists believe that every year the souls of their ancestors are released for 15 days. Pchum Ben marks the start of the journey of souls to purgatory, that in-between place that is neither heaven nor hell. The course of their journey will be decided by their karma and by the offerings made by their living relatives during Pchum Ben. This festival begins at the end of the Buddhist Lent. During this time, foods are cooked for the monks to generate merits that will benefit the dead.
History of Pchum Ben
The 15-day ceremony of Pchum Ben is a time for Cambodians to honor their previous seven generations of ancestors. The first 14 days are known as “Kan Ben” and during this time families gather at nearby pagodas, offering food and prayers to their ancestors to save them from bad karma. The belief is that deceased relatives wait at the pagodas for their loved ones to return to them.
“Ben Thom” on Day 15 sees families bring baskets full of flowers and children offering sticky rice cake to the monks. This is the main festival day and everyone dresses up for the occasion. Cambodians believe their actions on earth shape their appearance as a ghost after death. By praying and offering food during Pchum Ben, the family is helping their ancestors pass on to a better life as well as ensuring their ancestors don’t get angry and curse them.
The festival dates back to the Middle Ages and is among the most important holidays in Cambodia. Nowadays students and workers will return back to their families to observe Pchum Ben with them and make their offerings.
Pchum Ben timeline
King Jayavarman VII
It is said that during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, a monk came back from hell unscathed. He brought the message from the deceased that they could be freed from suffering if their relatives offered foods and alms to monks.
- 802 AD
During the Angkorian period, people followed animism. Although people now follow Buddhism, respect for elders was a practice they continued to follow.
- 1st Century BC
Taoist Ghost Festival
Both Pchum Ben and the Taoist Ghost Festival came about during the Mahayana period.
Pchum Ben FAQs
What is bay ben?
Bay ben is a ball of rice that is 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 and people often add coconut cream to make it taste better.
Other than offerings, what other ways do Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben?
People come together to prepare the pagoda in their village before the festival starts and Cambodian artists play traditional music.
When is Pchum Ben?
Pchum Ben falls on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month.
How To Celebrate Pchum Ben
Visit a pagoda
Cambodians visit pagodas to offer gifts to ancestors. Appreciate this tradition first-hand by visiting a pagoda and making an offering.
Do something special for your parents/grandparents
Parents are viewed as special gods by Cambodians. Before attending the pagoda, Cambodian children prepare lunch for their parents. A common saying is “What you have at home is more powerful than the god in the pagoda. Who are the gods in your house? They are your parents.” Show your parents and grands how much they mean to you by doing something special that you don’t do often.
Make Bay Bens
Bay Bens are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk that are made during the festival. Get together with some friends and celebrate the holiday by making your own bay bens.
Five Facts About Pchum Ben
It’s a popular holiday
Pchum Ben is one of the most important Buddhist festivals in Cambodia because it brings families across provinces together after a long separation.
Meaning of title
“Pchum” means “to gather together” and “Ben” means “a ball of food”.
It represents the importance of parents
The festival educates younger people on how they should give respect to their relatives.
The 15th day is the most important day of Pchum Ben and also the last day of the ceremony.
White is the funeral color in Cambodia.
Why Pchum Ben is Important
Respect for ancestors
Praying for ancestors is important for all Cambodians who follow the Buddhist faith. During Pchum Ben, the faithful pray and cook meals as offerings for seven generations of deceased relatives.
It's a show of respect to the monks
During the first 14 days of Pchum Ben, people cook food for the monks and also offer them alms. By doing so, the faithful believe they can bring good karma to their ancestors.
It's a 3-day public holiday
Pchum Ben is a time to gather with your family and close relatives. Sharing a communal meal, meditating, and helping the ancestors during their spiritual journey, brings the family together.