From Halloween to Pchum Ben the Festival of the Dead, We are related in more ways than we know.

Hello Fellow Adventurers,

It’s autumn. The days are getting shorter as a curtain of darkness closes in on them from either side. Summer is leaving the stage. Halloween’s coming and Thanksgiving’s not too far around the corner. It’s festival time!

I would care to wager that in autumn there are more festivals celebrated around the world than at any other time of the year. And these festivals are the type where friends and families gather. The harvest comes in. People eat well. They’re in a mood to share friendship and camaraderie with whoever walks in through their open doors.

There are a lot of Jewish people where I live. They’ve just celebrated their new year. In Hindu Nepal, they’re celebrating Dashain, the year’s biggest festival. In Buddhist Cambodia, the year’s second biggest festival, feeding of the ancestors, has just finished.

It is called the Pchum Ben Festival and is celebrated for fifteen days. The most important is the last one, which occurs on the fifteenth day of the tenth month of the Khmer calendar. The final three or four days are public holidays, which Cambodians celebrated from September 26 to 28 this year.

During Pchum Ben, spirits of dead ancestors are said to roam local temples looking for food to ease their hardships in the spirit world. They can eat only what their own descendents offer. If those descendents show love and respect by remembering them, they will be blessed by the ancestors with happiness for the coming year. But if they neglect to leave food, they will be cursed. The food reaches the ancestors via monks at the temples.

Fellow Adventurers, the pictures on the internet of this festival are very ceremonial. Saffron clad monks sit in front of endless rows of colorful offerings. A large room of people sit cross-legged, very subdued, holding candles and plates full of food. To me, these pictures felt like glimpses into the peoples’ souls, into something they value so much that they’re not posing for the cameras.

When I was looking at the pictures and reading about the festival, I remembered something from my own childhood in Nepal. Every year, during the anniversary of my grandparents’ deaths, my father and his brothers performed an elaborate ceremony with a priest that involved cooking something and leaving it out for their departed parents to eat. Were the two ceremonies related?

I called my dad and talked to him about what’s known as a shradde in Hinduism . He explained a lot of what I already knew about how sons have to feed their recently deceased ancestors on the anniversaries of their deaths. Then he mentioned something I’d never heard before, that one time during the year, for sixteen days, they have to remember and feed all of their ancestors, regardless of how many generations have passed between them. Then he added, “The last day of the Maha Shradde (Great Shradde) was yesterday.
Two cultures were celebrating the very same thing at the very same time. Hence, I found one more thing I have in common with the Cambodian people and culture….Come to think of it, I remember my college friend telling me that the word “maha” meant “great” in Cambodian….Also, through this backyard virtual trip to Cambodia, I’ve learned that the Cambodian Khmer alphabet has a very similar structure to the Nepali Devanagri alphabet.

We are related in more ways than we know. Finding out what we all share is what I love about these backyard world travels.

Well, Fellow Adventurers, this is your friend and relation (I know we’re related somehow) signing off until next time.

~ Bijaya

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