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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Feeding dead, Pchhum Ben festival in Cambodia

By Nguon Sovan

KANDAL, Cambodia, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Since early Tuesday morning, Chhin Som, 65, has got up to prepare food, fruit, candles and incense sticks in order to bring to pagodas to dedicate to his deceased wife and ancestors on the occasion of Pchhum Ben festival, the country's second largest religious festival.

Chhin Som had spent his one-month savings of 100,000 riels (25 U.S. dollars) from his sales of farm-grown bananas to buy fragrant rice and meats to cook for his deceased wife and ancestors.

He believed that the food would be reached his wife and other ancestors through the Buddhist monks' dedication.

"This is the only way through the Buddhism that I can express my affection and memory to my wife who died last year and to other ancestors," said Chhin Som, a resident of Kandal province's Mukampol district, some 45 kilometers east of Phnom Penh.

During the jubilant occasion of Pchhum Ben day, Cambodian Buddhists bring food, cash, and praying things to offer to Buddhist monks in pagodas in order to dedicate to their deceased relatives and ancestors; in return, they wish for longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity.

Chhin Som said he would bring food, some cash and other stuff to three pagodas in the district to wish his wife to be re-born in a better life.

The Pchhum Ben festival is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar. Before the day of Pchhum Ben, there is Kan Ben festival lasting for 14 days.

During the 15-day period, every early morning at four, monks chant in religious language and laypersons gather at the pagodas to toss small and round pieces of sticky rice on the ground to feed the sinful dead ancestors and then offer food to the monks.

"Some ancestors had committed bad acts in former lives, so after their deaths, they become sinful spirits; and the toss of sticky rice is to feed them," venerable Seng Sovannarith, chief of the monks at Machoeum Sararam pagoda in Mukampol district, said Tuesday during a sermon.

According to Buddhism, it is believed that, during the 15-day period, the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth.

"The period is the annual holiday for ghosts and spirits--they are allowed to visit their descendants on the earth and they go to seven pagodas searching for food that is offered to them through the monks," he explained.

Departed souls try to find their relatives at seven pagodas if they fail to find their families making offerings to dedicate to them, it is believed that departed souls will bother and curse their descendants throughout the year, he added.

"Traditionally, the festival is to dedicate to the souls of spirits, ancestors and the dead through reciting by Buddhist monks," he said. "It is also the time to pay gratitude to their parents and elderly people through offering cash and other gifts."

Buddhism is the state's religion in Cambodia with more than 90 percent of the country's 14.3 million people holding it.

The country has approximately 4,400 Buddhist pagodas with more than 50,000 monks in all 24 provinces and cities, according to the records of the Ministry of Cults and Religion.

About 80 percent of the population in this Southeast Asian nation lives in rural areas; however, most young adults have migrated to cities and towns for jobs, mostly in garment industry.

Pchhum Ben festival is also a time for family reunion.

"It's the jubilant occasion we can re-unite our family," Long Vicheka, 22, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, said on Monday before catching a taxi to his hometown in Kampong Cham, some 120 kilometers East of Cambodia.

Vicheka has 6 siblings living in different provinces in Cambodia.

"At this time of the year, all my siblings and their spouses always travel to the hometown to see my parents and other relatives," he said.

This year's celebration was made amid the disaster of Mekong River and flash floods hitting most parts of the country since last month. The floods have claimed at least 97 lives and affected 90,300 families, according to Phay Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, on Monday.

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