A month to pay your respects to the departed
THE HUNGRY GHOST MONTH has always fascinated me as a child. Even though I do not observe what I think is one of the most intriguing and thrilling festivals there is, that does not stop me from being fascinated by it.
It is during this time that when you walk around town, when you may notice people burning some paper and lightning incense and joss sticks by the side of the road, in front of their houses or shops.
Although the idea of the ghosts of our ancestors roaming around town excites me, I hope not to stumble upon one, and it is advisable to not do a few things during that month. This year, Hungry Ghost Month started July 27 and will end on Aug 24.
Among the donts throughout this month are staying out late or hanging around a cemetery, wearing red or black clothes, following a sweet or pleasant scent ahead of you, swimming in a lake or swimming pool for fear that an evil spirit might try to drown you, or whistling alone at night for fear someone – or something – might start whistling along with you.
Another ‘pantang’ this month is that if you feel somebody tapping you on the shoulder or calling your name from behind, don’t turn around or respond back as it might be coming from something else (if you know what I mean).
According to traditional Chinese belief, the 14th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is when the King of Hell opens up the gates of Hell to allow the spirits to visit the living world. This is the only time the ghosts are allowed to roam free in the world of the living, hence ‘Hungry Ghost Month’ or ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’.
During that period, the hungry ghost will wander around the world of the living in search of food, entertainment and probably visiting their living relatives.
According to ancient belief, the ghosts are said to be ancestors of people not given a proper funeral or burial or of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died.
In remembrance of their ancestors or dead relatives, family members will offer up prayers. Food and drink will be placed on an offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.
Some say that while putting food on the offering table, it is best to keep young children away from the offering table for fear that the spirit might mistake them for offerings. The food offerings as well as the joss sticks are burnt to keep the spirits happy and in hopes to bring luck to the living.
Aside from that, offerings in the form of artificial hell money are burnt because it is believed that the paper money has the same value in the afterlife.
In addition to paper money and joss sticks, living relatives may also burn paper houses, cars, clothes and other items to appease the dead.
Other than their family members, it is also common for devotees and members of the public to pay respect to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless spirits would not cause misfortune or intrude their homes.
While doing the offering, there are also some rules that devotees must follow; like not picking up anything unique or stepping on any offerings as the spirit might follow you back home.
Live performances are also held this month. While everybody is invited to watch, please be aware that the first few rows in front are reserved for the spirits.