Ministry issues instructions for safe Pchum Ben, Kathen

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People offer alms to monks during Pchum Ben festival at Wat Prek Leap in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district in September last year. Hong Menea

The Ministry of Cults and Religions has issued instructions for the upcoming Pchum Ben and Kathen festivals that adhere to pandemic health measures in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Cambodian Buddhists will observe Pchum Ben for 15 days from September 22 to October 6, with the main festivities celebrated from October 5-7, ending a day after the main day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on October 6. The holiday is dedicated to their ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.

Fifteen days after Pchum Ben, Cambodian Buddhists also celebrate the annual Kathen Festival, which goes from October 22 to November 19 and is observed by offering gifts and saffron robes to monks.

However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, religions minister Chhit Sokhon said the celebrations must adhere to Covid-19 preventive measures.

“When organising the Pchum Ben and Kathen festivals according to our culture and traditions in Buddhism, all religion departments and pagodas have to follow the instructions issued by the government and relevant authorities in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Sokhon said.

He said everyone who visits a pagoda must wear a facemask, have their temperature taken, sanitise their hands with soap or alcohol gel and maintain a safe personal distance from others.

“All pagodas have to clean the stupa where the ashes of people who lost their lives have been stored,” Sokhon said.

Neang Sokly, a Phnom Penh resident and Buddhist, told The Post on September 6 that she missed the festivals in recent years due to the pandemic. Her children have also discouraged her from going to the pagoda for the upcoming holidays.

“I’m not sure if they will let me go to pagodas this time. I really want to go because I have missed it for a long time now,” she said.