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Pchum Ben: Khmers Observe Days for the Dead

On the Buddhist cal-endar's first day of the waning moon-which fell this year on

Sept. 11-Khmer Buddhists began observing Pchum Ben, a 15-day period to commemorate

the dead.

Departed souls are said to be searching in up to seven pagodas for their relatives,

who if not found making offerings to them, cause the spirits to be mournful.

"Pchum Ben is a very big ceremony for Buddhists," explained a temple elder

at Wat Phnom.

"We gather in the temples and pay back to our ancestors who have passed away

during the last seven generations. The spirits come from everywhere: some from hell,

some from elsewhere, looking for their surviving relatives, who come to the temple

with food, clothes, donations. The spirits come to the temple to receive the donations.

"During the year they are the prisoners in hell," he said, "but they

are released once a year to search for their surviving families."

The 15th day of Pchum Ben-falling on Sept. 26 this year-is the most important day

of the holiday.

On that day Khmers will flock to Buddhist temples to pay homage and give alms in

honor of their departed relatives.

In Phnom Penh many Khmers may also visit the banks of the Tonle Sap to release small

boats with offerings as a means of providing comfort to departed souls.

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