A monk prays for the souls of a woman's loved ones, their names read to him by a lay assistant.
The Pchum Ben holiday is a festival of the dead. According to Buddhist tradition,
it is a time to comfort a soul and make it happy.
The two-week tradition, which runs from September 11 to September 25 this year, is
observed by most of the country's Buddhists. And it is wrought with cultural, supernatural
and religious beliefs.
In pagodas around the country, millions of Cambodians honor their lost loved-ones.
They take food gifts to pagodas to offer to the spirits of their family or close
Monks receive the food and then bless the soul of the deceased in return. The monks
eat the food that is offered and it is said that the tradition might have its origins
in ensuring that monks did not go hungry when confined to pagodas during the rainy
It is believed that if a Cambodian does not offer a gift to the spirit of a relative
or close friend then that neglected soul would torment the miser and bring bad luck
until the next Pchum Ben.
But it is the desire to soothe the spirit of the dead rather than fear of a year
of misfortune that draws people to the pagodas.
Siphoeun Somreth, a Ministry of Culture spokesman, said that Pchum Ben can be a time
to honor not just those dear to you but anyone who has died.
"It does not matter who it is. Pchum Ben is for all the people and Cambodians
can offer whatever they like to the spirits. It does not have to be food. It could
be wine...it's up to the individual."
Somreth added that although the idea of giving food for Pchum Ben stems from a story
that spirits in hell are restless with hunger because of their sins, and that relatives
can appease that hunger by giving food, the festival is not just for bad spirits.
"How can we know if our mother was bad or not? Maybe she is in heaven, maybe
she is in hell. It is best to bless all the spirits just in case they are in hell,"
The most important point, he stressed, is to say the name of the person when the
gift is offered or when the monks are praying. That way, the soul can hear that a
blessing is being sent.