RICE GATHERING FESTIVAL BONN DAK BEN AND BONN PCHUM BEN
Pchum Ben is one of the most important festivals in Cambodia. It has 15 days, started from the first of photerbot (Lunar calendar); spirits commemoration festival is held for spirits of the dead.
BONN DAK BEN- The offering of food to the monks- lasts for 15 days. The 15th day of ceremony – the Moonless day – is called Bonn Pchum Ben, the collection of The Ben (offerings). During this celebration, if departed souls do not find their families making offering at any Wat (pagoda), it is believed that the soul will curse and bother the descendants throughout the year.
Cambodian people believe that the ghosts and sinful spirits are afraid of the light. That is why, the festival is held during the old Moon of Photerbor. That time is the holiday of the ghosts and sinful spirits. The king of the Hell gives them the permission to descent to the earth to visit their relatives. When they arrive in our world, they will go to seven pagodas looking for food that their relatives offer then through the monks. If they cannot find it, they will get angry with their descendants and will bother them throughout the year. There is a kind of insects, which are seen only during the Pchum Ben’s day. They make people think that those insects are the spirits of those who did a lot of misdeeds in their lives, come to visit their relatives.
King Yasaovarman (889-910) was the first person who celebrated this festival. He prepared the Ben rice to worship the spirits of the heroes and heroines who had passed away in wars. The celebration during 15 days in the month of Photerbot called Kan Ben which in English means the participation in Pchum Ben. In Pali means the piece of rice. Currently, Ben is the piece of sweet rice cooked with coconut milk. In the first day of Kan Ben, people put a piece of Ben rice in a bowl and add a piece each day until it reaches 15 pieces.
In some areas, they put eight Kantoongs of rice in 8 directions. Each Katoong has 15 pieces of Ben rice. According to our customs, we take Ben rice home to be used in the final day. A part from Ben rice, we make Ben flowers for dedicating to Cholamony’s stupa, in heaven, in which the Buddha’s hair was put when he entered the monkhood.
From the moonless day of Photerbot, laymen and laywomen gather together in pagodas listening to the monks preach sermons. The one who arrives first has to drum to make a signal to the other lay people. They have to do the procession three times.
There are two kinds of sermon. One is for dedicating the food to the ghosts, and another one is for waking the sun to rise. A day before Pchum Ben, they prepare the khmer Traditional cakes such as Ansom cakes, Korm cakes for their flesh and blood to dedicate those cakes to their ancestor. In pagodas, they clean the temples and the pagoda’s campuses. Then they invite the monks to preach sermon to the deaths, and perform the coronation for Buddha statues.
In the evening of the same day, people gather together to worship the ancestors, they spread the mats covered with white cloth and white pillows. On both sides of the mats they put food, dessert and Ben Rice. The oldest of the family light the incenses and candles to invite the spirits of the deaths to come for dinner and ask the spirits to bless them in return. At dawn of next day, the descendants take the raft making of banana tree loaded with rice and drift it away for ancestors taking those gifts to their places.
In some houses, they perform the ceremony as the last evening to pray the village God to bless them. They perform the horns or the cattle to ask for forgiveness that they used those animals with their work for the whole year. Farmers scatter Ben Rice in the fields to ask for fruitful produces (crops) later on.