Amid nationwide pandemic prevention and control measures, Cambodia’s Ministry of Cults and Religions has permitted all Buddhist temples and monasteries across the country to celebrate the raditional Pchum Ben or Ancestor’s Day festival. According to a statement released by the Minister for Cults and Religions, Chhit Sokhon, Pchum Ben will be held from 22 September to 6 October, this year, followed by the month-long Kathina celebration from 22 October to 15 November.
Sokhon said that the Pchum Ben and Kathina celebrations would be well organized, allowing Buddhists to participate without risk of being infected by COVID-19. Monasteries must follow strict safety guidelines from the Ministry of Health and local authorities to implement COVID-19 prevention measures.
“All pagodas [monasteries] must be cleansed, decorated, with colored lights, flags, religious flags, royal flags, banners, and slogans to celebrate Pchum Ben and Kathina festivals, as per the Khmer tradition,” said Sokhon. (Khmer Times)
Pchum Ben is Cambodia’s most important religious festival, during which Buddhists commemorate seven generations of deceased ancestors. Pchum Ben dates to the Angkorian period (802 CE to the late 14th century), when communities followed animist beliefs and practices. Animism was eventually replaced by Buddhism as the most widespread religion in the region, although both emphasize the importance of respect for ancestors. As such, the ancient customs of Pchum Ben have continued to the present day.
Pchum means “coming together” while Ben means “ball of food” in the Khmer language. Pchum Ben is also known as “Brochum Ben” in the Khmer religious calendar. The entire ceremony, held in the tenth month of Phutrobot, lasts 15 days. The first 14 days are known as Kan Ben, during which Buddhists take turns making offerings, and the last day is Ben Thom, the great offering.
Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben in the hope that ancestors who became ghosts after their death will have a more auspicious existence. According to Khmer mythology, people who do not follow Pchum Ben’s customs could be cursed by their angry ancestors. Food is offered to ancestors by surviving relatives to alleviate their misery, along with offerings of money, clothing, and other items to the monks, who pass those offerings on to the deceased relatives. It is believed that by making these offerings, the ghosts will bless their living relatives with happiness. Pchum Ben offerings are also shared among impoverished and disabled members of the community, and the donors gain merit to atone for any unwholesome karma.
Local Buddhist resident Sin Somtha expressed her gratitude to the Ministry of Cults and Religions for permitting Buddhists to celebrate Pchum Ben this year, despite social restriction due to COVID-19. “I am looking forward to this festival and I will go to the pagoda [monastery] to offer food for ancestors and pray for happiness and good luck for my whole family,” Somtha said, adding that she would carefully observe all pandemic preventive measures. (Khmer Times)
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