What is Pchum Ben?

Pchum Ben is one of Cambodia’s most important Buddhist festivals. The most important cultural holiday in Cambodia might be Visak Bochea Day.

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Translated into English, Pchum Ben means Ancestors Day.

This 15-day holiday is based on the Khmer beliefs of karma and reincarnation. In Cambodia, most people are believed to be reincarnated at death while those with bad karma can remain trapped in the spirit world. During this time, those trapped souls are unleashed from the spirit world to find and repent to their living relatives. For this reason, you’ll find Cambodians visiting pagodas and praying for their dead relatives’ souls.
 

What Happens During Pchum Ben?

“It is believed that wandering spirits will go to look in seven different pagodas and if those spirits cannot find their living relatives’ offering in any of those pagodas, they will curse them because they cannot eat food offered by other people.” – Monk

 
During Pchum Ben, many people partake in the feeding of repenting souls. It’s believed that the souls are hungry ghosts – they have enormous appetites while having tiny mouths. Being greedy, envious, or jealous in life can lead one to become one of these hungry ghosts.

The Khmer believe that the food they prepare is either transferred directly to the dead or from the monks to the dead. For this reason, during Pchum Ben, Khmer people cook tons of food and bring it to the pagodas. Some people will throw food into fields for the souls to find.

There are plenty of things to do during this time, but not in the city. Most people will head back to their hometowns to pray and visit their families and pagodas. Cambodians love to share their traditions with travelers so ask them and maybe you can join the ceremonies in the pagodas.
 

When is Pchum Ben Going to Take Place?

Pchum Ben will start on October 8th this year. The widely-celebrated religious holiday will last for 15 days. Many tourists would not even know that the holiday was taking place except for the empty cities.
 


In this video you’ll see what happens in pagodas during Pchum Ben. Participating with a Khmer family is the best way to experience this holiday. Instead of watching a video, why not ask some friendly Khmer people if you can join.

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