Hungry Ghost Festival
While in the West they have to celebrate Halloween, the Chinese also have their own version for ghost, namely the “Hungry Ghost Festival”. Unlike the West, Chinese celebrate the Festival for the entire month by offering food and prayers to the ghosts. Most Chinese today may know a bit about the procedures of the festival but very few know the story behind the festival. The following is the legend that is associated with it:
As with many cool events, the origins of Ghost Month remain a mystery. Buddhists believe the legend that a man named Mu Lian, who was a student of Buddha went to see his departed mother by his mystical power. It was said that Mu Lian’s mother was in sin and she was punished to the realm of the hungry ghost when she died. When Mu Lian saw her, she was in hunger and great suffering. Mu Lian was deeply saddened and he tried to feed her with some rice in bowl. However , the rice turned into a charcoal immediately when his mother put the rice into the mouth. Mu Lian was very depressed and left because he could not do anything to help his mother.
Mu Lian went back to seek the help of his master, Buddha to release his mother rom those suffering. Buddha told him that the only way to save her from salvation was to offer fruits and vegetables in yulan bowls to the monks on 15th day of the 7th lunar calendar. The monks would requite to all the Sangha members in ten directions. It is said that the Sangha members were holding pure and complete precepts on that day. Their meritorious power can help the donors’ parents out of the great suffering in hell .
Later on, Mu Lian saved his mother from the suffering and he asked Buddha if his followers could do the same practice. Buddha advised that all the followers should have the practice too. Nowadays, the legend of Mu Lian has become a significant day to remember the filial piety of their ancestors.
Taoists believe that during the month of Hungry Ghost festival, the gate of hell is opened and all the hungry ghosts go roaming to the world. During the whole 7th lunar month, the Chinese celebrate the festival by holding religious ceremonies at home, temples associations and guilds. Sometimes prayers and food are offered at street corners and roadsides for the hungry ghosts. It is a belief that the practice will prevent the wandering souls from entering their homes and stay out of troubles. The Enlightenment Ceremony is held during the period to exempt the souls of ancestors from suffering and pain.
The best places to watch how the traditional rites are practised in Singapore are in the soul of the heartlands, where fellow believers congregate to burn incense sticks and present their offerings in the form of prayer, fruit such as Mandarin oranges, food such as roasted suckling pig, bowls of rice and occasionally a local Chinese cake made especially for the occasion. It is not uncommon to see various forms of tentage set up in open fields during this period, for the Chinese also believe in entertaining the spirits with boisterous live wayang and getai performances not only depicting tales of the divine gods and goddesses, but also bawdy stand-up comedy with a local twang, song and dance numbers in the various Chinese dialects and even sensually acrobatic pole dancing by felinely lithe spandex clad dancers.
Everyone is welcome to watch the show as long as you don’t sit at the front row, which is reserved for the “special guests”. The festival is so widely-practised here that special joss paper bins have been set up for believers to burn their paper money in, believed to translate into great fortune in the afterlife. Small altars can also be seen outside many homes, both on private property and in public housing areas.
From grand feasts costing thousands of dollars to a mélange of puppetry, opera and singing performances, the various ways with which the Chinese appease these roaming spirits is fascinating to watch, these festivities usually take place across the various neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Redhill and Geylang — so check these out if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to lose yourself in a truly local experience.
Date to start of Hungry Ghost Month: 26 Jul 2014, 23:59hrs, Chinese timing is 2300hrs