Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hungry Ghost Festival begins today

Man working on a paper effigy of Tai Su Yeah at his shop
Today is the first day of the 7th lunar month, a month commonly referred to as Ghost Month or the Hungry Ghost Festival.

This is one month in the year in which spirits from the nether world are allowed to roam freely on earth in the human realm. The gates of Hades open from today and will stay open for the entire 7th month. Buddhists/Taoists of Chinese descent offer prayers and food to these spirits or stray ghosts as they are known because they do not have any living family making them offerings.

Stage shows (singing and sometimes opera) and elaborate altars are set up across the country offering entertainment, food, clothes, gold and silver, money and other necessities to the spirits sometimes referred to as "buddies".  During stage shows, the front-row seats are usually left unoccupied leaving them for the buddies.  This is done to thank the spirits for a bountiful past year and to pray for another good year ahead.

Families also make offerings by the roadside for the stray spirits.  It is believed that once a family starts this custom of making offerings, it has to be done annually from then on.  These offerings are usually made on the 14th and 15th night of the 7th month depending on the family's dialect or clan lineage.  My mom does it on the 14th night.

Ghost stories abound associated with this month and more incidents and accidents happen particularly this month, a month the Chinese regard as inauspicious in which major activities especially weddings are not held.

As children we have been constantly reminded never to go swimming during this month, to be back home by dusk so that we don't bump into the spirits on the road on the way home, never disturb any offering laid by roadside and a host of many other taboos.

You can check out the list of do's and dont's concerning the Ghost Month. Yeah, some say the Chinese are a superstitious lot but cross the line at your own peril. From all the stories and real life experiences I've heard, I'd say better be safe than sorry.

The image above is one of an effigy-maker making an effigy of King Hades at his shop in Penang. For the past month, effigy-makers like him have been busy rushing to meet orders for the King of Hades or Tai Su Yeah replica. Measuring from 2.4m to 4m in height, the King of Hades oversees every prayer site ensuring that the buddies behave themselves. At the end of the ceremony, these effigies are set alight together with the paper offerings of gold, silver, money, etc.

Here's what a Hungry Ghost Festival site may look like.
Effigy of King Hades - Tua Pek Kong Temple in Jalan Besar - Bukit Mertajam. - The Star

This shows the end of the festival and all offerings are sent off by burning. Into the flames also goes the effigy of Tai Sui Yeh, the King of Hades. This scene was in Penang last year which tourists flock to for an experience.
Hungry Ghost Festival 2012 Penang - The Star

Both these images are taken from the post, Hungry Ghost Festival 2012 which you can read more about from the link below.

Let's all have a safe 7th lunar month. No dare-devils stunts like bungee-jumping, maybe. :D

Related articles:
- Hungry Ghost Festival 2012
- Do's and Don'ts - Hungry Ghost Festival Pt 2
- Hungry Ghost Festival begins today
- Effigy makers now have their hands full with ‘Tai Su Yeah’ orders


  1. Japan's Obon is next week, too. I love reading about the similarities and differences between the Chinese and Japanese customs. Thanks for this one!

    PS: Be careful!

  2. yea, stay happy and be safe..

  3. Oh yeah all the "ho hia ti" *Hokkien will be roaming the streets

  4. Anonymous4:12 PM