Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hungry Ghost Festival - 10 Aug - 7 Sep 2010

it's now the middle of the Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, a rich, cosmopolitan city with a deeply entrenched Chinese heritage.

Amid skyscrapers and high tech trappings of modernity, superstition persists and comes to the fore in the seventh lunar month, when the gates of the underworld are believed to be open and spirits roam the mortal realm and where you will see the offerings left for the spirits.
Investment decisions grind to a crawl, particulary in the property market, and elaborate altars stacked with food offerings for the spirits are found  across the island of five million people.

In Singapore, The seventh month of the lunar year is devoted to the Festival of the Hungry Ghost, during which the gates of hell are thrown open and the spirits of the dead are released on 'parole' to roam the earth. Food, prayers, incense and 'hell money' are offered to appease the spirits. Celebratory dinners are held as well as performances of Chinese street operas or wayang.

No marriages or dangerous journeys, such as sea voyages, embarked on.

Every year, usually in the month of September, the Chinese in Singapore observe a large-scale tradition of paying respects to the dead. Taoist Chinese believe that during this month, the “Gates of Hell” are opened and souls of the dead are freed and allowed to roam the earth.

The best places to watch how the traditional rites are practised in Singapore are in the soul of the heartlands, where fellow believers congregate to burn incense sticks and present their offerings in the form of prayer, fruit such as Mandarin oranges, food such as roasted suckling pig, bowls of rice and occasionally a local Chinese cake made especially for the occasion.
 It is not uncommon to see various forms of tentage set up in open fields during this period, for the Chinese also believe in entertaining the spirits with boisterous live wayang and getai performances not only depicting tales of the divine gods and goddesses, but also bawdy stand-up comedy with a local twang, song and dance numbers in the various Chinese dialects and even sensually acrobatic pole dancing by felinely lithe spandex clad dancers.

Everyone is welcome to watch the show as long as you don’t sit at the front row, which is reserved for the “special guests”.

The festival is so widely-practised here that special joss paper bins have been set up for believers to burn their paper money in, believed to translate into great fortune in the afterlife. Small altars can also be seen outside many homes, both on private property and in public housing areas.

From grand feasts costing thousands of dollars to a mélange of puppetry, opera and singing performances, the various ways with which the Chinese appease these roaming spirits is fascinating to watch, these festivities usually take place across the various neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Redhill and Geylang — so check these out if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to lose yourself in a truly local experience.

Hungry ghosts also appear in Chinese ancestor worship. is "the realm of hungry ghosts". Some Chinese believe that the ghosts of their ancestors return to their houses at a certain time of the year, hungry and ready to eat. A festival is held to honor the hungry ancestor ghosts and food and drink is put out to satisfy their needs.

When Buddhism entered China, it encountered stiff opposition from the Confucian adherents to ancestor worship. Under these pressures, ancestor worship was combined with the Hindu/Buddhist concept of the hungry ghost. Eventually, the Hungry Ghost Festival became an important part of Chinese Buddhist life.
Photo credit to Wista Singapore.

According to transcribed oral tradition, some Chinese villagers believe that spirits may be granted permission to return to the world of the living, and to take what they can from there, if these spirits had not been given sufficient offerings by their living relatives.

The Ghost Festival in Singapore and Malaysia is modernized by the 'concert-like' live performances. It has its own characteristics and is not similar to other Ghost Festivals in other countries. The live show is popularly known as 'Koh-tai' by the Hokkien-speaking people, performed by a group of singers, dancers and entertainers on a temporary stage that setup within the residential district. The festival is funded by the residents of each individual residential districts.

So when you see a Festival in your neighbourhood ..... join in and be part of the experience!

1 comment:

Demented but happy said...

Thanks for that Leone. I've always wondered what the mass paper burning was about and I did notice there were a lot of stages being erected around here recently but I didn't know what for.

Interesting stuff.