The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, which also falls at the same time as a Full Moon Festival . People believe that the gates of hell will open on the first day of the seventh month for a full month to free the spirits (or our ancestors) who will come out to look for entertainment and food on Earth. Living descendants will pay homage to their deceased ancestors and homeless spirits with food and entertainment; while the deceased are believed to visit the living.
As for Chinese rituals and beliefs, Chinese are often advised by their elders to stay at home at night and avoid nighttime outdoor activities like clubbing, late night movies or hangouts. This is to prevent any unfortunate incidents that are believed to be caused by homeless or naughty ghosts who want to seek for revenge or find new bodies as hosts to revive their souls. This is prohibited in the underworld.
During the month, funders and organisations will set up a place to build the statue of Tai-Su-Yah (King of the Underworld) and devotees will come over to pray to seek protection and good luck. Buddhists and Taoists will prepare ritualistic food, burning joss papers, joss sticks, and “Joss paper” such as gold, clothes, or even tech items like iPhone or Tabs – which believed to “feed” the hungry ghosts and spirits. Families will also pay tribute to other homeless or unknown wandering ghosts so that they do not intrude their lives and bring misfortune.
Hungry Ghost festival is celebrated by all Chinese cultures internationally, but with a little different rituals based on specific regions.
Unlike Taiwan and China, Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia and Singapore includes stage performances catered to entertain the spirits and living beings. You can even watch elaborate Chinese operas where performers are adorned in gorgeous costumes and full hair and make-up. This is all done to appease the wandering spirits.
This celebration is vastly celebrated in the northern parts of Peninsula Malaysia, especially in Penang. The biggest Tai-Su-Yah statue is located in Jalan Pasar, Bukit Mertajam and stands 2-storeys tall!
Paper effigy will also be burnt along with the offerings at the end of festival. The spirits are needed to return to the underworld or else their spirits will vanish forever. Once the gates of the underworld is closed, it’ll be the annual mid-autumn festival where people will light up beautiful paper lanterns and indulge in delicious mooncakes.
This year, the actual day of the festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month on Aug 21 2013, and the last day is on Sept 4 2013. If the concept of Hungry Ghost Festival is new to you, look out for celebrations in your neighborhood and participate to explore this unique celebration.