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Ancestors’ Day - Pchum Ben

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Ancestors’ Day or Pchum Ben or is one of the most important religious festivals in Cambodian Buddhism.

The name of the festival is derived from the Khmer language word Pchum, meaning a “meeting or gathering” and the word Ben which means a “ball of something” such as rice or meat. A favorite food offering of Pchum Ben is Bay Ben, a sticky rice ball made with coconut milk.

A tenet of Buddhism is that the gates of hell open once a year, rendering the spirits of the ancestors to be especially active. It is during this time that it is said that the Devil releases ghosts to find their relatives and be fed.

By the faithful feeding the local monks in their temples, they also feed the Hungry Ghosts, which in turn brings merit to their own deceased ancestors, up to 7 generations.

When a food offering is made, those ancestors in purgatory are able to move on through the process of merit-transferance. The spirits that are in hell are able to leave and to return later, presumably after their meal, and those that are in heaven can move about freely to enjoy the socializing.

The festival of Pchum Ben occurs during the period of heaviest rainfall in Cambodia so it also serves as a convenient way for the monks themselves to be fed during the rainy season.


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