Pchum Ben Prayers for Peace, Prosperity and Reconciliation

Some prayed for their businesses to prosper and for the CPP and CNRP to reconcile, others for peace and development. These and other wishes were made at pagodas across Phnom Penh and the rest of the country on Thursday, as the Pchum Ben festival got underway in earnest.

The 15-day-long festival marks the time when the dead—sometimes seven generations back—come to receive offerings from their living relatives.

A monk at Wat Lanka in Phnom Penh arranges gifts on a table on Thursday after the Bos Bay Ben ceremony, when offerings to both good and bad ghosts are blessed as part of the 15-day Pchum Ben festival. (Lauren Crothers)
A monk at Wat Lanka in Phnom Penh arranges gifts on a table on Thursday after the Bos Bay Ben ceremony, when offerings to both good and bad ghosts are blessed as part of the 15-day Pchum Ben festival. (Lauren Crothers)

After blessing offerings at Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh on Thursday, monks sat down to a huge banquet inside one of the central temples. At one of the entrances, a large box filled with rice became a receptacle for hundreds of riel notes—symbolizing a ship that worshippers believe will guide their ancestors to a better afterlife.

Nou Chansothea, 63, one of five Buddhist nuns who had just finished offering food to the monks, said this was her fifth pagoda visit since the festival began on Oc­tober 1—part of a bid to secure better karma for her next life.

“We came to the pagoda to ask for prosperity for our business and to build up merit for the next life,” she said. “We come here to ask for peace and for both parties to come together to develop the country.”

Chan Sophon, 50, who was waiting with her son and daughter as they prepared food for the monks, said she planned to go to her home province once the ceremony finished.

“We commemorate the souls of our ancestors who departed this world to bring us happiness,” she said, “and we also wish all leaders would come together in order to build our country and nation since in the past, our country experienced many wars and the people are sick and tired of it.”

The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP have been locked in a political impasse since disputed elections in July.

Hin Sila, 18, said he sees Pchum Ben as a way to encourage the younger generation to learn about Cambodia’s culture and traditions.

“When they can come here they can learn about the culture and tradition, which they can then preserve,” he said.

Standing in a vast, newly constructed temple in nearby Wat Botum, 29-year-old monk San Pheareth said the ceremony had not been as busy as previous years—something he attributed to the post-electoral climate.

“There were fewer people this year, since workers and students went to their homelands and some of them are worried about the country’s situation,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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