Ancestors Remembered as Pchum Ben Ends

Buddhists across the country visited pagodas Thursday in celebration of the Pchum Ben festival, with crowds carrying flowers, incense sticks and silver containers of rice and punch to honor their ancestors.

During the 15-day festival, families pray for ancestors and bring gifts of food and drink to monks who consume the food and are believed, after praying, to pass it on to their departed family members. According to doctrine, the days of the festival are the only time when the ancestors may eat, and if the living do not bring food to the monks, their ancestors will starve and curse them.

Sam Tho, a 79-year-old former army colonel with oversized glasses, walked outside Wat Moha Muntrei in Prampi Makara district, one of the oldest in the country. He grew up in Phnom Penh and said that, when he was young and people were poorer, their belief in Buddhism was stronger and Pchum Ben was a more special occasion.

“Cambodians today have cars and motorbikes and modern things, so they don’t have time for Buddhism. When people get rich, they stray from the original path of Buddhism,” Sam Tho said.

He extended his criticism to government officials, saying their greed signals that they are not living as proper Buddhists.

Under a tent inside Wat Moha Muntrei, a row of bowls was lined up on a table. As each bowl belongs to a different monk, the visitors are to place a portion of the rice inside each bowl early in the morning, and a portion at around 10 or 11 in the morning, because the monks are not permitted to eat after noon.

Ven Meas Pov, 28, one of the monks at the pagoda, said Pchum Ben is a good source of fund-raising, because some worshippers bring money as a gift. Also, the food donated can be kept for many days by the monks to save food expenses.

He pointed out a small cardboard boat, filled with nuts, rice, and even soda, propped along the path to the temple.

“The boat carries food to the ancestors, and we will release it in the Tonle Sap river on Friday before dawn,” Ven Meas Pov said.

In remote villages during the festival, many families release tiny paper boats with a small amount of rice into the rivers or canals near their houses.

The monks do not always finish their devotional meals. Inside the banquet hall of the pagoda on Thursday, impoverished children and the elderly ate the food from the bowls that the monks had left.

Poun Sovuth, 42, the deputy police chief of Boeng Keng Kang I commune and the man in charge of festival security at Chamkar Mon district’s Wat Langka, said the 15 days of the festival had seen no public disturbances of note, only minor accidents and health problems among visitors.

“People love Buddhism because it causes them to act well,” he said.

He said that when he was a child he remembers his mother told him and his siblings to go, a few hours before dawn on each day of the festival, behind the pagoda where they should throw round balls of seasoned rice onto the ground so that the ghosts of the ancestors would come to retrieve and eat the rice.

Now married with children, he said he told his children to do the same thing. And he said that this year he has seen many young people gathering at 3 am for this purpose.

 

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