By Soy Sophea
Bon Pchum Ben is a Buddhist religious ceremony dedicated to the spirits of the dead. Theravada Buddhists began observing Bon Pchum Ben September 15 following the full moon and as is the custom will continue to partake in Bon Pchum Ben activities for 15 days.
At 4 a.m. each morning during Bon Pchum Ben at the 4,125 Buddhist temples throughout the nation, a group of four or five monks begin chanting about the root causes of sinful actions that causes the praets to go to hell. Rich and the poor alike perform this religious cultural ritual without fail each year in Cambodia by taking money and offerings to the temples where the ashes of their ancestors are located or other temples of their choosing.
Offerings of food, medicine, saffron robes, kerosene and money are also presented to monks during this time. They are dedicated to dead ancestors and considered a means to cleanse one’s karma of negative verbal, mental and physical actions that were committed intentionally or unintentionally during the past year, according to Venerable Chan Sopheap of Mohamontrey pagoda.
He said that another important part of the Bon Pchum Ben ceremony is the baay-ben ritual, which must take place before dawn, usually from 3:30-5 a.m. All devoted Buddhists—parents, children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren—gather in darkness at a temple to toss baay-ben (fresh rice balls) for the praets. This ritual is always done prior to sunrise because praets are naked and too ashamed to wander in the sunlight. The praets visit seven different temples to receive baay-ben.
He said that the spirits of loved ones who never committed any misdeeds during their human life, do we perform the Bon Pchum Ben for them as well? The answer is yes! Our offerings to them will bring them good luck no matter where they now live.
It was the first time for Chea Sreysopheak, 19, to take part in bay-ben ceremony this year at Onnalom pagoda. Walking slowly unordered queue with hundred of people, and with tray of sticky rice, Sereypheak placed baay-ben on reserved bowls next to the surround wall of the pagoda.
She said she enjoyed doing so. “I’ve never practiced, I feel good to my death relatives.”
Sreypheak, came to the pagoda with her aunts and other her relatives. She said that from this stage she will come and join again next year.
Chea Kimneang, layman at Onnaloam pagoda, said that all Buddhists believe that after our death, we are reborn according to our karma. Those who behave poorly and commit negative acts such as those mentioned above will definitely serve time in one of 18 hells depending on the severity of their misdeeds.
He said that those spirits receive a brief reprieve during Bon Pchum Ben and are released from hell to seek offerings of food, clothing, medicine and shelter from loved ones at seven different temples.
During Bon Pchum Ben, the spirits who are known in Khmer as praet are “naked, cold and so hungry. They bitterly lament recent past life crimes while calling out the names of their loved ones—parents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and even friends— urging them to give them those basic needs,” explains Venerable Ung Boun Seen of Langkar Temple.
“So, any of us who do not do these offerings to our dead parents or relatives who are those praets are considered ungrateful individuals who will be cursed by those praets.”