Thousands of tons of food were transported to lost loved ones and ancient ancestors this weekend as Cambodians made their way to wats across the country with bountiful offerings.
As the 15-day Pchum Ben festival of the dead drew to a close, Cambodians prepared to see the visiting spirits of their relatives off to their world. And those at the wats wanted to make sure their loved ones didn’t go back empty-handed—especially given the improving economic prospects in this time of peace.
“I can’t miss it because if I do, my dead parents would make me and my family members dream of them complaining about how they have nothing to eat,” explained 45-year-old Buth Ravy.
But the festival was not only about honoring the dead, a market vendor explained at Stung Meanchey pagoda Saturday. ‘‘It’s good fun. It’s very good for the reunion of family and distant and close relatives.’’
At Wat Phnom on Saturday, families made their way up the steps, woman dressed in shiny blue dresses, men in button-down shirts, children playing with balloons. In front of a pink Buddha, supplicants kneeled before trays of bananas, chickens, some buns—and even a roast pig with a knife stuck in it.
The food was to be consumed by monks, thereby helping families gain entrance into the world of the dead. The sound of monks playing the xylophones and banging drums came from inside the wat’s main chamber. Everywhere, the air was thick with the smell of incense.
Kim Kuthea Reary, 40, spent Friday preparing flowers, incense, candles, cake, rice and meat to take for her relatives. ‘‘I especially pray for my husband and parents who were killed during the Pol Pot regime,’’ she said.
San Eam, a diminutive 68-year-old, made her way up to Wat Phnom with her granddaughter and a container with rice, soup and dessert. “It is important this year, because we heard rumors that by the year 2000, a lot of people will get sick,” she said.
Sok Sophia, 39, came to the wat with his wife, son and daughter. They carried rice, flowers, fish, desserts and incense.
‘‘This year’s festival is far different from previous years because this year we can make better business,” said Sok Sophia, a bodyguard for Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara.
‘‘Last year, not many people went out to pray because of economic issues, and fighting makes people poor. More and more people are coming to the wat because we believe in peace and we believe in Buddha.”
(Additional reporting by Adam Piore)