Pchum Ben, Cambodia's 'Festival of the Dead,' will end early due to COVID-19

October 5 marks the beginning of Pchum Ben, a 15-day religious festival in Cambodia during which Buddhists commemorate seven generations of deceased ancestors.

About the festival: The Pchum Ben Festival, also known as Cambodia’s "Festival for the Dead," is the second biggest festival for Cambodians after the Khmer New Year. The festival will be celebrated this week from Oct. 5 to 7, reported Khmer Times.

  • According to National Today, Pchum Ben falls on the 15th day of the 10th Khmer month. This dates back to the 1st century B.C., when both Pchum Ben and the Taoist Ghost Festival came about during the Mahayana period.

  • Cambodian Buddhists believe the souls of their ancestors are released for 15 days every year, and they wait at pagodas for their loved ones to return to them.

  • During the first 14 days, called Kan Ben, food, money, clothing and other items are offered to monks at nearby pagodas in order to save Buddhists from bad karma. These monks pass along those offerings to their deceased relatives.

  • On the 15th day, Ben Thom stands as the main festival day for which Cambodian Buddhists dress up for the occasion. Families bring in baskets of flowers, and children offer sticky rice cakes called bay ben to the monks.

  • By offering food and prayers, Cambodians are “helping their ancestors pass on to a better life” as well as ensuring their ancestors will bless them and their living relatives.


Cancellation: This year, however, Cambodia has “canceled” Pchum Ben because of a COVID-19 outbreak amongst monks in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, according to an AFP report.

  • Instead of the usual two-weeks of festival rituals, this year’s Pchum Ben will be cut short and conclude on the weekend. The early end is "necessary to control the spread of COVID-19... at the time that Cambodia is reopening schools and is planning to reopen the country," Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a statement last Thursday.

  • Buddhist temples have been locked down in Phnom Penh after 50 monks tested positive for coronavirus.

Featured Image via Oyen Rodriguez

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