Pchum Ben at Wat Sarawan
16 Dec 2009
Buddhism is the dominant religion in the Kingdom of Cambodia and , as elsewhere, it is practiced in some very unique ways that reflect the local culture and traditions.
Family, especially dead relatives and ancestors, are extremely important in Cambodia, so much so that one of the most important Buddhist festivals of the year - Pchum Ben (also known as the "Festival of the Dead") - is a fifteen day long celebratiobn devoted to honoring the deceased by making many generous offerings of food, incesne and flowers to monks who in turn offer special blessings and prayers for the spirits of the family's departed relatives.
At Wat Sarawan - a working-class neighborhood Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital - families visit their local temple (called a wat) during the Phcum Ben festival dressed in their finest silk clothes to make offerings (called ben), often arriving at 4am to throw rice around the temple in the beleif that their dearly departed will receive the food and be nourished by it.
During this celebration it is beleived that if the spirits of the dearly departed do not find their families making food offerings at a wat, that their souls will be cursed and the living descendants will be haunted by the their ghostly ancestors throughout the year.
This is a uniquely Cambodian Buddhist festival and it can be traced back to pre-Buddhist times when animistic beleifs in ghosts and spirts were quite common and over the centuries have been adapted to become a part of Buddhism as it is practiced in Cambodia, one of the poorest developing countries in the world.
Food, especially rice, is a central theme and a constant presence during this important religious ritual. People from the neighborhood bring an abundance of delicious and lovingly prepared home-cooked food that is offered to the monks on behalf of dead relatives.
During Pchum Ben the monks enjoy hearty feasts of gargantuan proportions.