Pchum Ben Day is also called the Ancestors’ Day or the Spirits’ day. It is observed in memory of ancestors, and the Cambodian Buddhists pay their respects to the dead by celebrations and offerings (a Ben is an offering). The Pchum Ben Festival is celebrated for fifteen days in the tenth month of the Khmer calendar and the fifteenth day is called Pheaktrobotr. People throng the pagodas where the offerings of steamed cakes in banana leaves are made, dressed in our traditional clothes. Women wear colorful silk scarves, blouses and dresses. Special rice offerings are made and these are usually of sticky rice. The present day ‘Bens’ are balls of rice cooked in coconut milk with various ingredients as per the local customs. The way a Ben is held also differs from locality to locality. It is a colorful festival celebrated by all. The last four days are public holidays when most Khmers visit the province where they were born for family reunions.
The people of Cambodia believe that after death they become ghosts whose earthly actions shape their appearance and that they walk the earth at this time. The living eases our suffering by offering them food. We also make offerings of money, dresses and other items to the monks in the temples. All Khmers are also offered food and drink. The offerings made are shared by the poor and the disabled during Pchum Ben and the donors acquire merit and cancel out past sins.
In the morning at 8:00 AM, people come to the temple, with offerings for the monks. They bring money and other things as well. At 10:00 the people return with more food, which will be shared between monks and poor people. Many of the Buddhist traditions seem to relate to feeding the poor. Disabled people also crowd around the temple tat is hour, begging alms. To give help to the less-fortunate, particularly during Pchum Ben, is to acquire merit. Between 5:00-7:00 PM there will be more prayers for the dead. People would be coming back to the temple at 4:00 the next morning because we have to toss the rice ball to our ancestors so we have to be up at 3:00.
One of the reasons the monks are offered gifts is because the Buddha commanded the monks to remain indoors for three months praying and meditating and hence food had to be given by outsiders. In the past, crops were planted inside the temple grounds and the young plants would die if monks walked about, hence they were told to remain indoors. This was the time to concentrate and purify the minds, by engaging in meditation. People are told to abstain from alcohol and behave well, and the monks are secluded, because if they failed, they would not get any offerings during the festival.
A majority of people in Cambodia take this festival very seriously even if our beliefs and ideas have changed a little bit, thus is still the impact of Buddhist religion which is an integral part of Khmer culture. This year the Pchum Ben Day is celebrate on September 27. The first day of Kann Ben is on September 13, most families bring foods to the pagoda for sending to our ancestor. The day of September 27 is the most important day of Kan Bann and it is the last day that we call Pchum Ben Day. In this day, we need to go to the pagoda to send food to our ancestors.