What is Pchum Ben?

What is Pchum Ben?

Pchum Ben is upon us for another year, yet most people outside of Cambodia aren't aware of this annual celebration. So we thought we would fill you in on the basics of this religious festival!

What is it?

Pchum Ben, otherwise known as 'Ancestor's Day', is a 15-day religious festival held by Cambodians. It's one of their most important holidays. The date of the festival is based on the lunar calendar, and is most often held between late September to mid October.

It is believed that in these 15 days, the gates of hell open, and the line between the spirit world and our world is thin. During these 15 days, Monks continuously chant at pagodas, and each village is allocated a certain day to visit the pagoda. 

Some people believe that during this time, souls that break free from the spirit world do so to find their living relatives and repent. 

To ease the suffering of their ancestors, Cambodians take food to pagodas for the Monks. By doing so, they believe that the food will bring good merit to their ancestors. One tradition involves throwing rice balls into fields to transfer food directly into their ancestor's stomachs. 

What should you wear during Pchum Ben?

You are encouraged to wear white during Pchum Ben, which is the official colour of mourning in Cambodia. As Pchum Ben pays respect to ancestors, it is the most appropriate colour to wear. 

Is it a public holiday?

Although the public holidays don't last for 15 days, there are three days of public holidays so that people can spend time visiting the pagoda and their relatives. 

Is Pchum Ben celebrated in other countries?

Pchum Ben is celebrated by Cambodians both in Cambodia and their countries of residence. Although other cultures don't celebrate Pchum Ben, it is similar to the Taiwanese Ghost Festival and the merit-transference ceremonies in Sri Lanka. 

Final Thoughts

If you ever find yourself in Cambodia during Pchum Ben, be prepared! Many shops are closed during this time as people head back to their homelands. You may find yourself visiting a pagoda, so be sure to pack some modest white clothing and bring some riel (Khmer money) as an offering for the Monks. And be sure to enjoy this unique tradition!