Cambodians mark 'Festival of the Dead'

Buffalos are seen decorated during the last day of Pchum Ben festival or the festival of the dead, at Virhear Sour village in Kandal province, Cambodia , September 20, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Samrang Pring

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodians came together on the last day of the Festival of the Dead on Wednesday to offer food and prayers to the spirits of family members and friends who have passed away.

At the Vihear Sour Pagoda, about 46km outside the capital, Phnom Penh, hundreds gathered to watch horse and buffalo races before going into the pagoda to put rice into the monks' alms bowls and to lay various dishes on the floor for the monks to eat - actions believed to reach the souls of the deceased.

Every year, people come from far and wide to visit the Vihear Sour Pagoda for the two-week long festival, which ends on the 15th day of the 10th month of the Khmer calendar, with hopes of luck and prosperity.

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The Festival of the Dead honours ancestors and has taken on added significance since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a regime that killed about a third of the population. As many as 2.2 million people were executed or died of torture, starvation or exhaustion during the Khmer Rouge's murderous bid to create a peasant utopia from 1975-1979.

"It is funny to watch the horse and the buffalo races here. They have these races every year on this day (Festival of the Dead) and I always come to watch it," said 28-year-old villager, Morn Ray. 

"When I offered food and drink to my family members who have died, I asked them to please come and collect what we had offered, here at Vihear Sour Pagoda on the last day of the Festival of the Dead," said Phnom Penh resident, Ao Orn. 

Another resident, Khat Rim (65) explained the significance of the festival. "I prayed for those who have died to come to collect our food and drink offerings and then asked them (the souls of those who died) to grant all of my family members good luck."



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