IN pagodas around Phnom Penh on Saturday and Sunday, young people will crowd together before dawn to throw away basketfuls of rice.
It is a tradition that is becoming a form of entertainment for many of these youngsters.
But questions are being raised about the merit of the kan ben or boh bai ben tradition (throwing away the ben rice) at a time when so many villagers are struggling to yield a rice harvest.
Hundreds of Buddhists throw away the bai ben (ben rice) at temple buildings or pagodas during Pchum Ben, believing it gives evil spirits the chance to eat, giving merit to their living relatives.
But 78-year-old Miech Ponn, a consultant of Khmer Customs Discussion Group of the Buddhist Institute, says the rice should be given to beggars and the poor rather than just thrown away.
I ALSO THINK IT IS A WASTE OF RICE, AND IT SPOILS THE PAGODA COMPOUND TOO.
Miech Ponn said most Khmer people did not understand the reasons behind the celebration, which reduced it to simply a waste of rice.
“Throwing bai ben is not a religious ceremony, but it is just a tradition,” Miech Ponn said, adding that the tradition should be updated. “Some baskets should be arranged for bai ben to be thrown into, and no longer scattered in a disorderly manner or hurled at each other,” he said.
“This will help save food at a time when the world is facing food shortages.”
Vong Sophorn, a monk from Wat Ounalom, said he expected many youths to crowd the pagoda before dawn to throw the rice.
“I also think it is a waste of rice, and it spoils the pagoda compound too,” he said.
“Some bad boys take this chance to touch girls, and some steal things or money while they are pushing each other in the crowd.”
Meas Chanthorn from Peal Nhaek Pir village in Pursat province agreed the rice was thrown uselessly.
“I really regret to see that bai ben is thrown away like that when my villagers and I hardly harvested anything this year because of the lack of rainfall at the beginning of the year,” Meas Chanthorn said.
He said most young adults did not think about merit, but just used the event as a chance to play with each other.
“I think that if they donate the rice to the poor or hungry people, they will receive more and better blessings than giving the rice to the evil spirits.”
Ly Hong, who lives in Phnom Penh, said in his home town in Prey Veng province, people never threw away rice. They put it in dish in the corners of the temple and asked the monk to pray.
“They keep the bay ben clean and then they eat it,” Ly Hong said. “They do not just throw it away like Phnom Penh people.”
But the head of Phnom Penh’s Wat Sampov Meas, Kang Nameamy, said the celebration was important for Cambodians. “They believe that the clean bay ben cannot be dedicated to evil spirits,” he said. “Evil spirits have too much sin to receive clean rice. They can accept only dirty rice.”
An Sim from Lvea Em district in Kandal province said the rice could not be put in a basket or on a pedestal because evil spirits could not accept it. But An Sim said those throwing rice should follow the instructions of the clergymen.