Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hungry Ghosts abound during the Chinese Halloween

The gates of Hell are open..

at least in some parts of the world they are...


The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by Southeast Asia's Chinese communities ( and that means Malaysia too, where it's called Phor Thor) during the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar ( i.e. roundabout August ).

Before the family became Christians, we would follow our grandmother as she celebrated this "festival". Apparently, the deprived ghosts in hell get an entire months' vacation from purgatory.

(Even as a child, I would wonder why the ghosts would so obediently go back into Hell after the one month "vacation" )

To appease these roaming and wandering ghosts, there would be offerings of food, music, theater ( yeah, a time for chinese opera and screenings of movies outdoors - kinda like drive-ins with the smell of burning incense and joss sticks, as well as the smoke from the burning of "hell money/notes" thick in the air).




***When we were younger, we were told that the ghosts would "smell the smoke" and get full from the scent, as well as if the hell notes were burnt, they would somehow be "interdimensionally" forwarded to dead relatives etc.***

If they weren't kept full or entertained, they would come into your house seeking food, wreck havoc and start messing with you...and they especially loved getting to the children - so there were a lot of taboos during that month, like no swimming or the spirits in the water would drag you down; or going out late at night; don't start answering calls to your name if you don't see anyone around; if you smell sweet scents in the air, keep it to yourself and don't even mention it to anyone;

AND if for some reason, you felt the need to pee outdoors, like in the bushes or something, you had to say aloud "Excuse me, please move aside" before you started peeing. ( kinda like a forewarning so that the spirits wouldn't get peed on and get mad at ya)




When we were growing up, there was an open lot in front of our house, which was THE designated place for offerings yearly, and a tent would be put up and families from ALL AROUND would come with their offerings, placed long long tables and with little colourful "hungry ghost festival" flags stuck among the different types of food. There would be lots of tales like, if you bent down and looked through to the back between your legs, you would see a ghost, yada yada yada...

I don't remember this particular occasion, but my mom once told us that when my older sister and I were toddlers, she had brought us out to the playground, and we had come running to her telling her that some "auntie" was beckoning at us and asking us to go with her. When my mom looked at where we were pointing, she didn't see anyone........

The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story originally from India. It is an account of a wealthy merchant, Mu-lien, who after attaining enlightenment seeks out his parents. He finds his father in heaven and his mother a hungry ghost in Hell, sent to Hell for her greed. Mu-lien had asked her to be kind to any Buddhist monks that came her way, but she was not. Mu-lien rescues his mother from hell by battling various demons and imploring Buddha’s help. A deal is made and Buddha installs a day of prayer and offering in which monks can pray and make sacrifices on behalf of dead ancestors or hungry ghosts. The 30th day of the seventh moon is the last day of the festival. At midnight, the ghosts return to Hell and the gates are shut after them. Paper offerings and other goods are burnt in a giant bonfire as a final gift.


13 comments:

Gene Lim said...

yea i remember the opera thing. I used to like it very much but funny part is i dun understand one word they were saying that time.
and the statue the put up for praying thing..really huge and scared me all the time.
hehehehe...

*~*HollyMarie*~* said...

I love it when you put things on your posts about your culture. I know you don't believe in this anymore, but it is very interesting. I love learning about different cultures and you always have the greatest childhood stories to tell.

*~*God Bless*~*

Monica said...

wow i never heard of this, but it sounds pretty cool!!!

Halloween for me was about getting candy :) and dressing up :) i guess they watered it down in the 70's and 80's!!!

Laura.Y said...

hehe great write up, in Malaysia, they still burn stuff even at the side of the pavement at housing estates. Stages are already/being set up in various communities even as I type. In Singapore though, they are no longer allowed to burn much. I'm going to refer some to your entry if you don't mind..:)

eLMo said...

sori to hear abt the fish..*sob*
dats rite...they are living things too so they deserve a birthday hehehehe...cats n dogs n all pets!
Yeah!!
Now i know more abt the hungry ghosts month...hmm..b4 dis i only know that the air n noise pollution will start when dis month comes(well actuali more den dat la)...ehehhe!

void said...

Whoa! Spooky ;)

ashleymclure said...

Sounds like a kinda neat celebration.

ashleymclure said...

Sounds like a kinda neat celebration.

Jaxon S said...

we had wandering ghosts too. there was a time i fell sick when i was a boy and the "village doctor" diagnosed me as being cursed by a ghost because i had disturbed its ant-hill hideout.

and we had to sacrifice a white chicken to appease him (a him?). strangely i was well the next day. must be the paracetamol.

Thao said...

That sounds like a great celebration. And when I've passed on to the other side, I would appreciate the living not peeing on me either.

Desmond Goh said...

Hey, I can't descripe the festivel better. In fact I have forgotten about it cos we don't follow those Chinese customs anymore. Infact the cantonese would have a big do this evening while the hockkiens will have big do tomorrow the 15th day of the seventh moon. Jin of the devil's advocate may be able to provide us with greater details of the other "world". *scary*

desiderata said...

Hi Letti:

NiCe touch on an aspect of Chinese culture which I'm still trying to get acquainted.

First visit here on SS' recommend. By coincidence, another of Sweetspirits' blogmates at kyelscom also posted about this Ghosts Festival just.

Will call by again to be informed of fellwo Malaysians wanderings and wonderings abroad ...Keep up the good coop work on "Proud to be Malaysians"!

Selamat Datang juga!

Anonymous said...

Seventh Month Myths:
http://www.moonpointer.com/index.php?itemid=684