Festival opens ‘gates of Hell’ for 15 days so people can feed starving ghosts

A festival taking place in Cambodia sees the gates of Hell flung open and the ghosts of evil spirits released.

In Autumn, the Pchum Ben festival allows families to honour their long line of ancestors as well as feed any hungry spirits.

Also known as the Khmer Festival of the Ancestors, the event occurs every year between September and October during the 10th month of the Khmer Lunar calendar for 15 days.

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Throughout this event, it is believed the gates of Hell are opened and hoards of hungry ghosts are free to roam among the living, reports the Mirror.

The ghosts are thought to roam graveyards and temples in search of a meal from their deceased relatives to feed their hunger, or the living will have to face the consequences.

Four specific types of ghosts are set temporarily free, including 'hungry' ones, others that consume only blood and pus and some that constantly burn and glow.

Only the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi kind are allowed to receive food offerings from monks, that have been given to by families, while the rest have to reduce their level of sins before they can eat anything.

A well-fed spirit will bring blessings upon its family but an empty-stomached one will return to Hell at the end of Pchum Ben and pass on its sufferings to the relatives.

Chef and author Rotanak Ros told Atlas Obscura : "We believe that in Hell, they’re very hungry," but if the dead cannot find who they are looking for then “we, the living people, will get cursed by them.”

The ancient custom, which is unique to Cambodia in South East Asia, sees families offer food for up to seven generations of their ancestors.

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Relatives wake up in the early hours of the morning and prepare dishes before the sun has a chance to rise.

The ghosts do not like any light and if even just slither of sunlight appears then it is already too late to make the offering.

Om Sam Ol, a monk in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, said : "It is believed that some of the dead receive punishment for their sins and burn in hell – they suffer a lot and are tortured there.

"Hell is far from people; those souls and spirits cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear, no food to eat.

There is no way of knowing whether someone's dead relative is in heaven or hell and so Cambodians hope that by carrying out the offerings they will pass on good karma to the dead and ease any unearthly torments they are enduring.

The festival offerings are therefore a means to help calm any such agitated ghosts struggling in the afterlife who were taken before their time.

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