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Pchum Ben In Cambodia by Sun Ya-wen (Cambodian new immigrant)

In Cambodia, there are three major holidays: Khmer New Year, Pchum Ben and the Water Festival. This time, I want to share Pchum Ben with all of the readers. Most of the Cambodians are practitioners of Buddhism, and Pchum Ben is a Buddhist holiday between August 16th and 30th on the Buddhist calendar. The entire holiday is 15 days. Throughout the 15 days, Cambodians would go and worship at different temples. It is best to go to at least 7 temples, so we don’t miss any deceased relatives and friends and all of them had received our offerings.
On August 15, the first day of Pchum Ben, temples will hold a ceremony to open the gates of hell. This is the day when the moon is at its roundest, brightest, and prettiest state. On this day, Cambodians go to temples and pray to the gods in heaven and the gods underground to open the gates of hell and allow our deceased ancestors to come and enjoy our offerings. Normally, we would prepare items frequently used by out deceased relatives, and foods and fruits they loved when they were alive as offerings to them. After the ceremony is over, we don’t take the offerings home, instead, we would give it to the monks of the temples. In return of receiving the offerings, the monks would chant sutra for us and bless us with prayers.
During the 15 days of Pchum Ben holiday, temples are open 24 hours a day and hold different ceremonies in the morning and at night. The ceremonies in the morning are for our deceased relatives. Because the temple gates are guarded by the gods, so we can call out to the names of our relatives, only spirits whose name has been called can enter the temple to enjoy the offerings. A ceremony will be held at night for spirits that were not called during the day, so they can enter the temple and enjoy the offerings as well.
What are the rituals of Pchum Ben ceremonies? First thing in the morning, we have to get the breakfast ready for the monks before 7 o’clock, so they can have breakfast at 7 o’clock. Around 9 o’clock, we will prepare foods for our parents, and they will take those foods to the monks. During the process, the monks will continue to chant sutra while we repeat the names of our deceased relatives, so they can come and take the offered foods and items. This ceremony will continue until 11 o’clock because monks have to eat at 11 o’clock.
After lunch, we wait until 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon to start preparing for the night ceremony. The night ceremony is for no name spirits that wander the land. The night ceremony process is similar to that of the morning ceremony. We would prepare foods for the monks and walk around the temple with them. The monks will continue to chant sutra while we chant with them. Then we would place the foods at the corner of temple walls. After the ceremony is over, we would return to the temple to have the monks chant sutra and bless us. Afterwards, some of the participants would go home, while some will stay in the temple to take turns and chant sutra until morning. The chants would ring out through the entire village, it is quite a festival! If you have the opportunity, try to visit Cambodia and experience a different religious culture!

Providing offerings

Taking a group photo in front of the temple dressed in traditional Khmer dresses after all the dishes are prepared.