Respect for Ancestors Runs Deep in Cambodian Culture
In Cambodia, Pchum Ben or Ancestors Day, is a 15-day religious festival, which culminates in a celebration on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, roughly mid September on the modern calendar. The day is a time for Cambodians to pay their respects to deceased relatives from the past seven generations. That’s a lot of relatives! Monks will chant Buddhist scriptures in Pali, often overnight and continuously without sleeping in a prelude to the gates of hell opening. The ritual originates from the Pali canon, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. Offerings in temple entrances as well as at shrines in the family home are made to the ancestors and monks to generate merit that indirectly benefits the dead.
In many temples, however, this is either accompanied by or superseded by food offerings that are imagined to directly transfer from the living to the dead, such as rice-balls thrown through the air, or rice thrown into an empty field. It stems from the idea of feeding the ghosts with physical food.
Pchum Ben is considered unique to Cambodia; however, there are comparable merit-transference ceremonies in other countries like Sri Lanka and Laos.
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