When is Ancestors Day?
Pchum Ben, also known as Ancestors' Day or 'Hungry Ghosts Festival', is a 15-day Cambodian religious festival, which culminates in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, marking the end of the Buddhist lent.
Phcum Ben starts on the first day of the waning moon in the month of Putrobut until the 15th day before the new moon. Each of the the first fourteen days of the festival is called a day of Kan Ban. The 15th and last day is called 'Pchum Ben' and is the start of a two day public holiday.
In Khmer, the language of Cambodia, Pchum means 'to gather together' and Ben means 'a ball of food'. Pchum Ben, also called 'Brochum Ben' is the most important festival in the Khmer religious calendar. The day is a time for Cambodians to pay their respects to their ancestors of up to seven generations.
The Pchum Ben festival dates back to the Angkorian period when the people of the area followed animism (the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls.). Eventually animism was replaced by Buddhism as the prominent religion in the region, however Buddhism and animism both emphasised respect for ancestors, so the ancient customs of Pchum Ben continued and flourished under the newer religion.
It is said that on the first day of Pchum Ben, the gates of hell are opened and the devil releases all the ghosts, some of who are ancestors of the people.
There are four different kinds of ghosts released: those who eat blood and pus, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungry ghosts and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks.
The first three types of ghosts cannot receive food from their relatives until their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.
For the first 14 days of Kan Ban, people will take turns offering gifts of food to the monks in their local pagoda, with the hope that their offering will earn 'merits' that will then reduce the sins of the ghosts of their ancestors.
The people don't know the outcome of these offerings, so this means it becomes an annual tradition to ensure the wellbeing of their ancestors and almost all Cambodians will attempt to make at least one visit to a pagoda during the festival to make these offerings.
The offerings of food during Pchum Ben are welcomed by the Buddhist monks as Pchum Ben usually falls during the heaviest part of the rainy season which makes it harder for the monks to leave their pagodas and receive alms from the local people.
The food offerings are usually 'Bay Ben' (balls of sticky rice and sesame, sometimes flavoured with coconut cream.) and are offered to the ghosts at dawn, as it is believed ghosts with serious sins are not able to receive food during the day.