P’chum Ben: Its Significance

Posted by: | Posted on: September 16, 2008

Among Cambodian annual festivities, P’chum Ben and Kan Ben are considered very significant. Literally, P’chum Ben means the gathering of the pieces of cooked rice to offer to the deceased. It culminates in 15th of full moon day and ends in 15th of waning moon day in lunar calendar of the 9th month or September 14 to September 28. The values of this festival notably inscribed its universal similarity, traditional practice, Buddhist ethics, and social, economic, political driven-force.

Universally, the festivity occurs during the darkest night. During these 15 days, the night in Cambodia is so dark and humid allowed Cambodian people to accelerate their belief of ghosts who dare appear only in the very dark night. The belief coincides with some Western countries especially Canada and America that their Halloween Day also happens in the very dark night. The purpose of the festival is to refer to ghosts or spirit, but practice is in different formats. Cambodian Buddhists bring food to offer to the Sangha, but Canadians and Americans joyfully play “trick or treat” with each other by transforming themselves as the night ghosts. Thailand and Lao also celebrate this day for the gratefulness to their deceased called Kao Sarth.

Traditionally, inscriptions of Cambodia’s old Khmer repeatedly mentioned the festivities of the death. It has likely evolved from ancient Khmer to modern Khmer by the combination of Khmer religion, Buddhism and Hinduism. But the central significance to this mobilization is the Khmer identification of paying gratitude to those considered good-model shapers such as parents, teachers, and community servant leaders. Colorfully exhibiting on the streets, the Cambodian women dress in costume white shirt and silk pantaloons carrying food and some local snacks such as Nom Ansorm (steamed cakes wrapped in banana leaves) and other typical home-made disserts to the nearby pagodas.

Regarding Buddhist ethics, this festival is the national holiday and it offers a chance for all Cambodian Buddhists to obligate to pay gratitude to their deceased ancestors as well as to those living parents and elders. Beside of generating merits through offering and generosity, they are fully aware to undertake the five precepts or the fundamental Buddhist commandments such as abstaining from taking lives or abusing lives, stealing or corruption, committing sexual misconduct, telling lie or using malicious words, and drinking alcohol or addicting drugs. The principles of Buddhist practice are to get rid of all evils, to cultivate the good, and to cleanse one’s mind. The three essential pillars they have to observe are the undertaking of charity, the undertaking of morals, and the undertaking of enhancing improvement.

P’chum Ben has solidly bonded Cambodian society and it is the instrumental cultural thread to the nation. In the sense of marketing, this day help boom the capacity of buying and selling which can motion the economic drive to reach growth. There are also participation of local village chiefs, commune councils, provincial governors or national political leaders in some locations of this festival. In sum, P’chum Ben has been a lifeline, a cultural thread, a notion of national unity and prosperity, and the bonanza of goodness of all Cambodian citizens.

By Sophan Seng