Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is here again. Each year, for the entire 7th Lunar month, the traditional Chinese observe this month as the month dedicated to the wandering souls and the ancestors who have passed on. It is interesting to find out how this term "Hungry Ghost Festival" came about, but certainly, it tickles the mind.

This year, 25 Jul 2006 marks as the first day of the 7th Lunar Month. It is believed by the ancient Chinese that on this day, the ghosts could come up from the "below". And it is also believed that those who died young or in unusual circumstances could become wandering souls. Unless their relatives have arranged for the proper conducting of ritual to raise them up from such status, they would remain wandering all the time. And during this month, the traditional Chinese would offer their departed ancestors or relatives as well as the wandering souls with food and joss-papers (money for the nether world).

It used to be smoky days and nights as each Chinese dialect group offer its prayers on different days and in different ways. And residents of a neighbourhood might gather together to offer prayers to the wandering souls. It was very much a community event, but in modern Singapore, this is getting lesser.

Still, in Chinatown as in any HDB estate and even in shopping centres (if you look close enough) and offices, there could be make-shift altars for the residents (be they living or working) to offer their prayers. In the HDB estates, one could see the elders leading their young - children and grandchildren in praying with a joss-stick. Tradition lives and continues in this way.

The Hungry Ghost Festival is also an important local economic activity in many local companies' business charts. Those selling traditional Chinese praying paraphernalia would be busy stocking to meet the demands. Those in the food and fruits market will also be busy as a wide array of foods are offered, from cooked dishes to fresh fruits to canned food and dried food. Neighbourhoods organised mass prayers, with each family taking back a basket packed with various food after the prayer. Bigger supermarkets are also getting into the play offering ready packed baskets of goodies.

This year, there are two 7th Lunar Month in the Chinese Calendar. This has many in confusion as to whether the Hungry Ghost Festival will be 2-months long, meaning that the ghosts would have an extended stay. The general trend of thought is that ghosts do not understand second month and so, they will return as scheduled. (^^) The second 7th month starts from 24 Aug 2006 and the last day 29th of 7th Lunar Month will be on 21 Sep 2006.


Anonymous said...

Nice to find a blog about Chinatown. Although the younger generation might not have gone through the buzzling streets of Chinatown back in the old days, this acts as a great channel for us to to absorbed in the traditions and cultures of Chinatown! Cheers!

Tong said...

When Buddhism was spread to China, there was a practised for disciples of Buddha to congregate on the 15th of the seventh month, which is the end of 3 months of rainy season in India which the monks and nuns stay in retreats to practise and meditate. The gathering is call Pavarana Day which monks and nuns meet and announce their acheivement during this period to the Buddha and is a day of rejoice. However, one of the chief disciple of Buddha called Mogollana achieved a pyschic state which he informed the Buddha that he saw his mother suffering as a hungry ghost, despite his powers - he was unable to save or help his mother; which he was very much sadden. The Buddha then explains to all disciples that they should combine and share the goodness and credits with all sentient beings - this practise is called the Ullambana. Some how, this story must have evolved or mis-intepreted along the centuries and generation (a good example of Chinese whisper) into a 'Hungry Ghost' Festival which everyone burn offering to their ancestor. There were a few articles in The Straits Times which clarify this, I am hoping that those who read this understands that Buddhist do not practise Hungry Ghost Festival, instead it is a month of Rejoice for them.

chinatownboy said...

Hi Charley and Tong,
Thanks for dropping by and your comments. Always learning. Life is just interesting. Don't you think so? (^^)

luminousmoon said...

chinatownboy, that was a great piece of article.. and tong, thanks for the clarification.
Chinese culture is just so interesting and amazing, isnt it?