Health and Economic Concerns May Hamper Pchum Ben Celebrations

After two years of the pandemic, pagodas are now fully open and preparing to celebrate Pchum Ben. However, fears have been raised that health concerns and economic challenges may continue to keep people at bay
A woman buys vegetables in a market in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
A woman buys vegetables in a market in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

As Cambodia prepares to celebrate Pchum Ben, the festival of the dead, when food and other offerings are handed over at Buddhist temples, people have expressed mixed feelings, with health and economic concerns raised.

Sorm Sokong, a Buddhist monk in Phnom Penh, said on Wednesday that the upcoming festival, which begins on September 11 and continues for 15 days, will be completely open for the first time after two years of Covid-19. He is urging people to attend pagodas carrying out health precautions.

“We will prepare to celebrate Pchum Ben, I hope that citizens join with three do’s and don’ts,” Sokong said with regard to Covid-19 health measures that include wearing masks, washing hands and keeping distance.

Sokong added that pagodas depend on Buddhists to offer food to monks. If people are affected by the economic crisis, pagodas also feel the impact that is caused by a decline in people attending.

“I hope Buddhists don't miss the Pchum Ben ceremony celebrations this year,” he said. “According to the financial crisis for citizens, some pagodas depend on Buddhists. If our people do not have good finances, then the pagoda will have the same,” he said.

Sopha Phengly, another monk in​ Veal Sbov Pagoda, said a large number of people will celebrate Pchum Ben because of the nationwide vaccination rollout. He added this year's Pchum Ben will see greater participation than previous years.

“Some people didn’t fully participate in the offerings to monks last time, but this year it's back to normal and attendance will increase,” Phengly said.

Hong Sern is a 90-year-old Buddhist. He said Covid prevented people from celebrating Pchum Ben for the last two years. However, he expects a large number of celebrations this year.

“During the Covid pandemic, pagodas were restricted so that no Buddhist could offer alms to monks, but now many will come to offer alms. Pchum Ben will have a lot,” Sern said.

Economist Ngeth Chou said people will still practice Buddhism despite financial difficulties, but in a more precarious manner.

“It’s our culture, I believe people still spend money on food and traveling to the pagoda, as well as visiting their parents in their hometown,” Chou said. “But overall, they will be careful with their spending as we all agree that earnings are quite challenging now.”