Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ghost Festival in Singapore

On 13th we were setting off for dinner at the nearby Longhouse along Thomson Road, and as we got out of the lift I saw a lot of my Chinese neighbours burning incense sticks, gold-paper, and placing offerings of fruits & cakes along the pavements. I realised that the Ghost Month has started. According to the Chinese belief, the 7th month of the Lunar calendar is a month when the gates of Hell are opened and all the ghosts come down to dwell on Earth. During this time all the Chinese offer gifts, food, incense to their deceased dear ones, so that they do not cause harm or haunt them. I see huge metal barrels placed everywhere so that the paper-money & paper-gold and other offerings are burned in that without causing any mess. This is one thing I love about Singapore, they think of every small detail where cleanliness is concerned (other things of course are just as meticulous). At every block there are song & dance shows to please the ghosts & these gatherings are great fun too!!

Some Facts: The Hungry Ghost Festival or the Feast for the Wandering Souls (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Mandarin) is held on the 7th month of the lunar calendar. On the 15th day of the 7th month, families pay respect to their deceased relatives and visit their graves often with much feasting as if their dead relations are still were with them. This year it starts on 13th August & ends on 10th September.
Significance: It is believed that during this time, the souls of the unborn and that of departed ancestors and friends are released from Purgatory to wander the earth for 30 days. The souls of the dead ignored by relatives may do acts of mischief, so steps must be taken to appease the spirits before they go on a rampage. Hell money, paper offerings and joss sticks are burnt to see to their material needs; food is offered so that the souls do not go hungry and thus less likely to wreck havoc. Neighbourhood celebration dinners or zhong yuan (popularly known as getai) are held on the feast day, with auction of goods, operas and song performances being part of the festivities. The Buddhists and the Taoists have different ways of celebrating the feast. As ghosts are believed to dominate events, no auspicious activities such as such as weddings and business launches are held during this period.

Legend: Mu Lian The story of Mu Lian, who tried to save his mother from Hell, is connected to this festival. Mu Lian was reputedly a favourite disciple of Buddha. However his mother had broken her vow of abstention from meat-eating and was cursed to suffer the afflictions of hungry ghosts in purgatory. Although filial Mu Lian offered rice to his dead mother, hungry ghosts would consume it before she could eat it. In anguish, Mu Lian appealed to Buddha for help. Buddha pointed out that only the monks of the Ten Directions could save her. They had to prepare all kinds of food and items and offer it to the ancestors of the past 7 generations on the 15th day of the 7th month. Thereafter, Mu Lian's mother was delivered from her torments.

I want you all to read an article that appeared in Finance Manila ( that talks about the Ghost festival & it's impact on the economy. It is very interesting!!

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