Pchum Ben Festival is a fifteen-day Khmer festival that honors the memory and legacy of the seven generations of ancestors for many people in Cambodia.
About 60 members of the Phare Ponleu Selpak community, mostly including Phare Kindergarten, practiced and celebrated the 11th Ben on 10 October 2023.
Let’s learn more about this significant festival and the ways that Cambodians – and Phare Ponleu Selpak students – celebrated the occasion this year.
What Happens during the Pchum Ben Festival?
During Pchum Ben Festival, Khmer families go together to pagodas and temples to offer food and other donations to the monks during the first 14 days of the festival known as Kan Ben. They often choose rural pagodas or temples that need more contributions. These donations are given in honor of their ancestors. It is believed that ancestors wait at the pagodas to visit with their family and accept these tributes.
Num Ansorm is a customary sticky rice cake that is present in almost every Khmer home during this season. Most countryside Cambodian families spend this time of year preparing Num Ansorm as a present for visiting family members or friends from the city as well as an offering to the monks and their ancestors.
On the fifteenth day of Pchum Ben is the main event of the festival, known as Ben Thom. Observers of the holiday gather for a large celebration at their pagoda or temple. Many people believe that their actions in this life will shape their lives and their family’s afterlife. Offerings of donations and prayers may contribute to the overall well-being of their families for generations past, present, and future.
How the Phare Kindergarten & Staff Celebrated Ben
On 10 October 2023, about 60 members of the Phare Ponleu Selpak community practiced and celebrated the 11th Ben – in addition to their domestic celebrations – at Wat Pothivong, which is about two kilometers away from campus. Attendees came from Phare Kindergarten, the Visual and Applied Arts School, the Performing Arts School, and the Child Development Center (CDC).
Photo credit: CHHUON Vyro
Kindergarteners and the rest of the team were dressed respectfully and in the customary attire for the holiday. The students and staff helped with the preparation of donated offerings while Phare cooks prepared a variety of foods such as bread, chicken curry, banana-wrapped sticky rice, water, lotus flowers, and Sladak—items offered to monks to gain merit.
Shortly after the Phare kindergarteners arrived at the temple, it was filled with local people of all ages and origins. Visitors engaged in religious practices, explored the temple, prayed to the Buddha, and took family photos while the air was filled with the sound of monks chanting through amplifiers. Vendors were also selling food and toys around the temple. Everyone was having a great time at the festival with their loved ones.
Photo credit: Olivia AUDO
The students and staff from Phare Ponleu Selpak were seated in front of a monk at the west side of the main temple next to a large table with the food offerings and other donated items. Just before the offering, the monk gave all of the laypeople lessons on generosity, mindfulness, and moral living.
Photo credit: Olivia AUDO
What Phare Students & Teachers Thought about the Experience
At the end of the activity, all of the Phare delegation – and especially the kindergarteners – showed a lot of enthusiasm about what they’d just learned.
RY Sreyroth, a five-year-old student at Phare Kindergarten shared her experience: “I am very happy to make merit, and to listen to the monks chanting.”
Her friend, Dalis, a six-year-old added, “I want to do it again.”
The teachers from Phare Ponleu Selpak also had a lot to say about their Pchum Ben experience at the pagoda, including the importance of passing down cultural heritage.
“I feel pleased to participate with other teachers and children in offering food and drink to the pagoda,” said LOEUNG Sochenda, a traditional Khmer dance teacher at Phare Ponleu Selpak. “This practice is very important because it is a part of our Khmer culture. During Pchum Ben Festival, we prepare food and offer it to the pagoda in honor of our past ancestors. We also instill in children the values of giving to others, forming close relationships with others, and showing love and care to friends, recognizing both the good and the bad. Since we are teachers, this is a great role model for them to experience.”
The teachers from Phare Kindergarten agreed, saying the visit to the pagoda offered many important lessons for the students.
“The visit was a worthwhile endeavor,” said SOEUN Sophea, one of the kindergarten teachers. “It imparts knowledge and understanding to our Buddhist students, along with the significance of Cambodian national festivals and real practices. We usually only tell kids about Pchum Ben by stories. It brings me great joy to be here at the festivities with the students. Children were quite engaged and knew just what to do in this situation. I hope they develop this activity in conjunction with other national festivals, such as Khmer New Year’s Day.”
Photo Credit: Olivia AUDO
Photo Credit: Olivia AUDO
SOVANN Dara, the Student Social Support and Development Manager, led the excursion and expressed her excitement for the celebrating Pchum Ben Festival and why it is important for the students to have these kinds of experiences.
“I am very excited to celebrate the festival with the kindergarten children, and adults from different departments so they could learn more about monks and Buddhism,” said SOVANN Dara. “I truly believe the event taught kindergarteners something. Experiencing the pagoda with family is not the same as experiencing it with classmates and teachers. Next year, we intend to visit a different pagoda in order to explore new locations and experience different places. Thanks to all who took part and especially the cooks who put the effort in making delightful and delicious dishes, for the offering to the monks.”
Pchum Ben is more than simply a holiday; it’s a tradition that’s been passed down, enlightening people about sharing, and spending time together with families. In Buddhism, it’s important that the older generation serves as a positive role model for the younger, imparting to them the value of being generous to others and pursuing virtues.
If you ever find yourself in Cambodia at this time, be sure to join in the Pchum Ben festivities with the locals to get an authentic taste of it.
Want to help change lives through the arts? Join Phare Ponleu Selpak as a volunteer and use your skills and expertise in transforming the lives of children and youth in Battambang, Cambodia.