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    Posted October 13, 2012 by
    Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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    Pchum Ben Holiday - Cambodia

    As Monday approaches, Cambodians all over the country are traveling back to their provinces to pay respect to their departed love ones. In a country where a large population was exterminated by the Khmer Rouge, the Pchum Ben Holiday is probably the most significant holiday in Cambodian culture.

    The celebration begins a few weeks prior to the actual date as to ensure the population has an opportunity to participate. With most Buddhist holidays, it corresponds with the phases of the moon, but unlike many celebrations that occur on the full moon, the holiday peaks when the moon has gone black.

    Pchum Ben in Cambodian is an offering to the departed souls. Ben is the soul or ghost. People will make offerings to the monks in the wat, then Bai (food) Ben, where they will parade around the wat offering food to their ancestors.

    Every year around September or October, in the wee hours of the morning,, the sound of chanting monks resonates through the communities that surround the various Wats of Phnom Penh, and through out the countryside.

    Having my sleep disrupted at 4 am during this time of year over the last 8 years for a two week period, I ventured into Wat Sarawan across the street from my apartment to get a better understanding of this holiday.

    About 4 am everyday, monks begin their chanting. They chant through loudspeakers which echo off the concrete buildings surrounding the wat. Over the years I have gotten used to it and can sleep through it.

    People will arrive to make offerings and pray with the monks. Behind the scenes, elders package food and trinkets for the monks. A primitive sweatshop of a kitchen prepares food in large vats on wood fires. A young girl awaits to deliver servings between the kitchen and the wat. Places are set to feed an army of monks that reside on the wat grounds.

    Outside of the wat, there are vendors selling incense and food plates, and a section of sand mounds. People will purchase the plates which are primarily fruit and parade around the wat tossing food over the outer walls of the wat to the ghost of their loved ones. Candles are also lit and placed on the outer walls of the wat. An offering can be made on one of four different sand piles to alter bad karma, not only for the departed, but the living as well.

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