|A Pchum Ben feast at pagoda (Photo: tourismcambodia.com)
Bao Tram: Welcome to VOV’s Cultural Rendezvous! Please tell us some interesting facts about Pchum Ben Day?
Uch Leang: Thank you so much for your interest in Pchum Ben Day of Cambodia. Pchum Ben is a Cambodian religious festival celebrated by Buddhists. It’s one of the longest festivals in Cambodia, lasting for 15 days. Pchum Ben day, which falls on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month, falls on 24 September this year 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 the Day. This festival begins at the end of the Buddhist Lent. During this time, foods are cooked for monks to generate merits that will benefit the dead. Pchum Ben can be split into two words: “Pchum” means “to gather together/ to collect” and “Ben” means “a ball of food”.
|Uch Leang, a researcher of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute
Bao Tram: How important is Pchum Ben Day to Cambodians, and what do people do on that day?
Uch Leang: The first 14 days of Pchum Ben are called Dak Ben, when people who live close to a pagoda take turns cooking food for the monks and visitors from other regions who come to the pagoda during this time. It’s believed that deceased relatives will wait at the pagoda for food made by their families. Before going to the pagoda children prepare lunch for their parents. Old people in Cambodia always say, “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.” The 15th day is the most important day of Pchum Ben and also the last day of the ceremony. Cambodian people have three days of public holiday in September this year, giving them a chance to visit their hometown and gather with their family. Besides going to a pagoda, they usually make a quick visit somewhere nearby and have a meal with family. We also make bay bens, which are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk.
|Bay bens are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk
Bao Tram: Cambodia’s Pchum Ben Day is similar to several festivals in other Asian countries. Vietnam, for example, has the Hungry Ghosts Festival and Mother’s Day that takes place on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. What is the highlight of Cambodian Pchum Ben Day?
Uch Leang: Yes sure. The Hungry Ghosts Festival of Vietnam is similar to Cambodia’s Pchum Ben Day. Throwing rice balls at dawn (or Bos Bay Ben) appeases hungry ghosts. People in Cambodia believe that hungry ghosts with heavy sins cannot receive food during the day. Mother’s Day, which falls on the first full moon day of the seventh lunar month in Vietnam, is also similar to Cambodian tradition. Before going to the pagoda children prepare lunch for their parents. Parents are precious gods for Cambodians because they give life to, take care of, and worry about their children.
Bao Tram: What’s one thing we should remember about Pchum Ben Day?
Uch Leang: Pchum Ben Day in Cambodia is a time to remember relatives and community members who have passed away. At the same time, the holiday is one of community-building and mutual respect. It’s a time when everyone can join who wishes to take part. By gathering together to acknowledge death, the community strengthens relationships among the living.
Bao Tram: Thank you so much, Uch Leang, for joining us today and telling us about Pchum Ben Day, the ancestors' festival in Cambodia.
Uch Leang: Thank you so much for allowing me to share about the traditional festival Pchum Ben Day in Cambodia. Thank you.