Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hungry Ghost Festival

Every year’s 7th month of the lunar calendar is known to the Chinese as the “Ghost” month or 七月 in Chinese. Chinese believed that Hell will open its gate for the whole of the month to allow spirits and ghosts to roam the earth freely. According to legend, 7th month is an important month for hell’s spirits and ghosts as they were normally not allowed to eat, whatever that touched their mouth will become ashes. However during this special month, they were given concession to eat and to be fed.

The 15th day of the 7th month is known as the Hungry Ghost Festival 中原节 or 普渡. Some people would confuse this day with Qing Ming 清明节. Although both festivals honour and pray to the deceased, but they are different in nature. During Qing Ming, people prayed and make offerings to their ancestors in remembrance of their roots. However, in the case of Hungry Ghost Festival, people not only make offerings to their ancestors, they also make offerings to roaming spirits as well as demigods “working” in hell.

(Picture above shown offerings: Red Candles, Tea Leaves, Joss Sticks and Joss Papers)

Many of the roaming spirits do not have a “home” or decedents to pray for them, so in spirit of giving, people often prepared additional offerings for them. Chinese prayed to the demigods too as they believed that getting into “good books” of the demigods, they will be blessed for the year. This year’s Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 3rd of September. Our family, like many other families, make offerings too.

Joss papers came in various forms. Some of it has chants scripted on it, when you burnt them, it is like you are chanting “good” for them. While some others are more “mundane” things, money known as hell notes, colours papers which are supposed to symbolise cloth for making clothes.

Chinese steamed-cake. Chinese usually include one of these steamed-cake when praying as they symbolised prosperity.

Some of the joss papers have to be folded, a bit like origami, to look like gold ingots.

Unique to Hungry Ghost Festival, people would lay a table full of their daily food stuff as offerings to the spirits. It is also believed that people will be blessed eating those food that has been offered before.

More pious Chinese would even get whole roasted pig as offerings.

In order to invite spirits and demigods to come and feast on the offerings, one need to stick a joss stick and specially-made flags on every food items.

The offerings are left outside for a while, so that the spirits and demigods have “time” to feast on them…

看着烟袅袅的升起 它是否带着人们的祝福和期望到祂的耳边?

Have you all seen the above before? Always wondered why people did that? Scroll down for answer…

After praying, the folded joss papers are brought down to the streets to burn. Chinese believed that the deceased can only received them through burning them.

My mum said that burning joss papers in the chalked area meant that it is for a specific recipient usually for ancestors.

I did not manage to take photo of all joss papers. As you can see from this photo, there are many varieties.

Hell notes, one form of the joss paper, usually comes in big denominator i.e. millions. A TV drama once joked that hell has serious inflation problems due to people printing them in big denominators.

Of course in Singapore, we cannot anyhow burn joss papers as they constitute to littering as well. Often, town council would prepare metal bins for people to burn joss papers.

As I watched the joss paper engulfed in flames, I hope those who are in need would be able to receive them and blessed our family in return…

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