Thursday, 7 August 2008

'Hungry Ghosts' Festival

Around this time of the lunar calendar, some chinese believers would gather together to set up temporary praying altars to welcome the souls of the dead. The gates of Hades are believed to be flung open for the souls to roam freely during the seventh month of the lunar calendar; and, for this year, it falls on 1st August 2008 through 30 August 2008.

The believers offer daily prayers with joss-sticks and candles. Coffee, tea, alcohols, soft-drinks and food are offered daily to appease the 'hungry ghosts'.

Unlike other lunar months, the first, middle (15th) and last day of the 7th lunar month are observed with greater widespread offerings, and burning of incense, joss papers, paper replicas of clothes, shoes, houses, and other materialistic essentials.   As is the usual practice of Taoists and Buddhists, the first and 15th day of lunar month are considered auspicious days for observance and prayers.   The last day of the 7th lunar month is special as it is the day of bidding farewell to the wandering souls, and spirits of ancestors, and/or loved ones who have to make their way back to their respective realms.   It is a month of widespread dining, entertainment, continual prayers and offerings as different communal groups pick (some in consultation with the spirits) their own dates to observe the festival with pomp and grandiose dedication within their own localities.   Some groups engage monks or Taoist priests to perform special rituals for the healing and salvation of the wandering souls.

Electrical appliances, toys, liquors, figurines, elaborately-decorated charcoals, etc are auctioned off for raising funds for the ensuing year's festival celebration, and charitable organisation(s) chosen by the organising committee in consultation with fellow members.

Successful bidders need only to pay up before the following year's celebration. Charcoals are hot items because of the superstitious belief attached to such stuff, and the bidding can go into thousands of dollar(S$).   Members outbid each other to clinch their favourite items with the belief that the items would bring good fortune.

Many temples too organise mass celebrations for their devotees to make offerings to their ancestors and spirits of loved ones in the temples' compound, and for the temples' monks or Taoist priests to conduct prayers for the souls.

Devotees need to contribute a monthly or one-time payment for the occasion.

Getais ( stage-show ), puppet shows, wayangs ( traditional chinese operas ) and 10-course chinese dinners are organised as part of the celebrations when budget allows.

This festival is not unique to Singapore.   Chinese in countries like Taiwan, Hongkong, Indonesia and Malaysia do observe the festival in their own customary practices and beliefs.

Above snapshots show the elaborate celebration in Puli, Taiwan.   More information and pictures are available from Chinese Temples in Singapore.

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