Pchum means ‘to gather.’ Ben refers to ‘balls of rice.’ So Pchum Ben means to gather food to give to the monks.
Pchum Ben is, along with Khmer New Year, Cambodia’s most important festival.
Pchum Ben is also known as “Ancestors Day.” That’s the real reason for it: to show respect for one’s ancestors.
It is believed that the spirits of the ancestors move out from hell for the 15 days of the festival.
Life in Buddhist Hell, is well, hell.
But family members have no way of being sure if there ancestors were sent there or not. However, they do know that the spirits will visit the temples looking for food and blessings.
And if the living do not have offerings for them, and the monks do not chant their names, then they will curse their relatives.
The family hopes, too, that their merit-making will help the spirits gain some relief from their suffering and perhaps be reborn.
Most temple-goers go armed with small denomination bills which they handout to the many beggars that descend on the pagodas at Pchum Ben. They mostly seemed a happy lot. Certainly they had grace.
Temple visitors donate rice and money to feed the monks. Some, mostly woman, will visit a pagoda on all 15 days of Pchum Ben. Others will visit two or three different temples in one day.
Incense is burnt in huge quantities. The small boy gets paid in small notes. (Mostly 100 riel bills which is about 5 cents). The begging children are a friendly lot but very grasping when the notes come out.
A small band and group of dancers preformed, somewhat unenthusiastically, for small donations.