Sunday, 10 August 2014

Zhong Yuan Jie 盂蘭節 Hungry Ghost Festival

An array of foods being offered to the deceased at a Buddhist temple
Hell bank notes and imitation sycees are offered during Ghost month
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival in modern day, Zhong Yuan Jie or Yu Lan Jie (traditional Chinese:盂蘭節) is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month (14th in southern China).
In Chinese culture, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in spring) and Double Ninth Festival (in autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, during Ghost Festival, the deceased are believed to visit the living.
On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is veneration of the dead, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival from Ghost Festival because the latter includes paying respects to all deceased, including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.
Origins - Buddhists from China claim that the Ghost Festival originated with the canonical scriptures of Buddhism, but many of the visible aspects of the ceremonies originate from Chinese folk religion, and other local folk traditions (see Stephen Teiser's 1988 book, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China). This process of syncretism is not limited to China: the ghost festival has parallels in Theravada Buddhism, such as the Cambodian Pchum Ben festival, reflecting the same assumptions about an annual opening of the gates of hell, and with the same (ultimately canonical) role of King Yama. In Tang Dynasty China, the Buddhist festival Ullambana (see below) and the Ghost Festival were mixed and celebrated together.
Religious festivities - The Ghost Festival is held during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died, or those who were never given a proper ritual send-off. They have long needle-thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or as a punishment so that they are unable to swallow. Family members offer prayers to their deceased relatives, offer food and drink and burn hell bank notes and other forms of joss paper. Joss paper items are believed to have value in the afterlife,considered to be very similar in some aspects to the material world, People burn paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts. Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, when people bring samples of food and places them on an offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.
In some East Asian countries today, live performances are held and everyone is invited to attend. The first row of seats are always empty as this is where the ghosts sit. The shows are always put on at night and at high volumes as the sound is believed to attract and please the ghosts. Some shows include Chinese opera, dramas, and in some areas, even burlesque shows. Traditionally Chinese opera was the main source of entertainment but the newer shows, concerts, dramas and so forth are referred to as Getai. These acts are better known as "Merry-making".
For rituals, Buddhists and Taoists hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from suffering, many of them holding ceremonies in the afternoon or at night (as it is believed that the ghosts are released from hell when the sun sets). Altars are built for the deceased and priests and monks alike perform rituals for the benefit of ghosts. Monks and priests often throw rice or other small foods into the air in all directions to distribute them to the ghosts.
During the evening, incense is burnt in front of the doors households. Incense stands for prosperity in Chinese culture, so families believe that there is more prosperity in burning more incense. During the festival, some shops are closed as they want to leave the streets open for the ghosts. In the middle of each street stands an altar of incense with fresh fruit and sacrifices displayed on it.
Fourteen days after the festival, to make sure all the hungry ghosts find their way back to hell, people float water lanterns and set them outside their houses. These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a paper boat. The lanterns are used to direct the ghosts back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolizes that they have found their way back.
Getai Fever
Every year, usually in the month of August, 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 getaiperformances 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.
Ghost Month and Ghost Festival
The seventh lunar month in the traditional Chinese calendar is called Ghost Month. On the first day of the month, the Gates of Hell are sprung open to allow ghosts and spirits access to the world of the living. The spirits spend the month visiting their families, feasting and and looking for victims.
There are three important days during Ghost Month. On the first day of the month, ancestors are honored with offerings of food, incense, and ghost money - paper money which is burned so the spirits can use it. These offerings are done at makeshift altars set up on sidewalks outside the house.
Almost as important as honoring your ancestors, offerings to ghosts without families must be made, so that they will not cause you any harm. Ghost month is the most dangerous time of the year, and malevolent spirits are on the look out to capture souls.
Feng Shui Alert - Chinese Ghost Month Taboo / 鬼月禁忌

Hungry Ghost festival is an annual occasion that is taken very seriously by Feng Shui practitioners and chinese of Taoist faith. This festival falls on the 7th month of the lunar year, which starts on 27 July 2014 for one full lunar month. During this month the gates of hell are opened to free the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth. Some even think that the ghosts would seek revenge on those who had wronged them in their lives. The reason why the Chinese celebrate this festival is to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. They also feel that offering food to the deceased appeases them and wards off bad luck.
Rituals and Prayer Celebrations - The dead would return to visit their living relatives during the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar year and thus the living people would prepare sumptuous meals for the hungry ghosts. The Chinese feel that they have to satisfy the ghosts in order to get good fortune and luck in their lives.
During this festival, the Chinese offer prayers to the deceased relatives, burn paper money, paper houses, paper transportation, paper accessories and joss sticks massively to their ancestors as well as wandering spirits in front of their homes. Giving the ghost such necessities would enable them to live comfortably when they go back their own world. In Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, it is a common sight to see entertaining Chinese Opera shows performed on outdoor stages in many neighborhoods. These events are always held at night. Such entertainment would please those wandering ghosts that comes to earth once a year.
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Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival)

Zhong Yuan Jie, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, traditionally falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. In Singapore, the festival is observed throughout the entire seventh lunar month, which is usually around the month of August of the Western calendar.1During this period, many Chinese worship their ancestors and make offerings to wandering souls that roam the earth.

Origins and significance - The origin and significance of the Hungry Ghost Festival differ between Taoists and Buddhists. Taoists focus on appeasing the wandering souls released from the netherworld, while the emphasis of the Buddhists is filial piety.

According to traditional Taoist beliefs, the fate of mankind is controlled by three deities: Tian Guan Da Di, ruler of heaven, who grants happiness; Di Guan Da Di, ruler of earth, who pardons sins; and Shui Guan Da Di, ruler of water, who alleviates dangers. Shang Yuan Jie, which falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, and Xia Yuan Jie on the 15th day of the tenth lunar month, are the birthdays of the rulers of heaven and water respectively. Zhong Yuan Jie, which falls on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, is the birthday of Di Guan Da Di, who descends to earth on this day to record the good and evil deeds of each human being.

During the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts are released from the netherworld to wander on earth among humans and look for food.5 Traditionally during this month, Taoist priests would perform rites and make food offerings, while devotees would visit temples to repent their sins, as well as pray for happiness and avoidance of disasters.

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Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by the Singapore Chinese community on the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar which usually falls on August or September of the Western calendar. The Taoist Chinese believe that the gates of hell are opened during this month and the spirits of the dead are released to roam the earth. The Chinese also believe that the deceased family members will return to visit their relatives.
How is the ghost festival celebrated?
Like the Chinese community in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia who also celebrate the Ghost Festival, Singapore Chinese celebrate by offering food, prayers, and burning joss sticks and hell money to pay tribute to their deceased relatives. The Chinese also offer food and burn hell money to other unknown wandering ghosts (hungry ghosts) so that these homeless souls will not interfere with their daily lives and cause bad luck or misfortune.
If you are in Singapore during this month, you will see Wayang (Chinese opera) and concert performances at outdoor stages (Chinese called it Getai) around the neighborhood. These performances are usually held at night. They are loud affairs with singing, dancing and opera amplified by loud speakers. These entertainments are actually for those hungry ghosts so as to please them but they are usually filled with living audiences. However, the first row of seats are usually left empty. Do you know why? Those seats are for the ghosts so remember not to take the front row seats if you happen to be one of the living audience there to enjoy the performance when you are in Singapore.
What is the unique part of the celebration in Singapore? The unique part of the celebration in Singapore is the hungry ghost festival auction dinner which is the highlight of the celebration. Ghost festival group prayers are usually organized by different Chinese temples or Chinese communities. Member will pay their member fees annually or monthly and during the 7 month of the lunar calendar, the communities will organized a group prayer or some even hire Wayang troupes to give song performances. The organizer will buy food, fruits, packaged rice, canned food, sweets and others items to distribute equally and put them in red pails to pray to the hungry ghosts. After the prayer, members will bring home one of the red pails that contain prayer goodies to consume for good luck.
At night they will come back to the celebration venue to attend the hungry ghost festival feast with 8 or 10 course dinners served. The highlight of the night is the hungry ghost festival auction which is unique in Singapore ghost festival celebrations. The organizing communities will auction out a wide range of auspicious items that are either donated by the member or bought by the organizing community.
Singaporean Chinese believe if they are able to buy the item, it will bring them good luck for the year. The main reason for the auction is to raise funds to make offerings to those spirits who have no one left in the living world to look after them. The money raised during the auction also goes to charity and and to subsidise the following year's Zhong Yuan Jie. During the dinner there will also representatives from different charities going from table to table to ask for donations. Thus Singapore's hungry ghost festival is also a day for charitable donations. Do drop by at one of the neighboring ghost festival auction dinners to observe this unique Singapore festival culture if you are in Singapore during the ghost month.
Superstitions - Ghost festival is an inauspicious month as it is believed that there are lot of ghosts around the streets therefore there are some superstitions that some Chinese still observe.
Here is the list of advice to heed during the Hungry Ghost festival
  • The Chinese will not get married during Hungry Ghost Festival as it is considered inauspicious.
  • Children are advised to stay away from swimming pools during the 7th month as it is believed that the water spirits will drag these little ones into the water and drown them.
  • Avoid old trees. It is believed that the spirits will hide there.
  • Children are advised to return home early and not to wander around alone at night. This belief is due to the reason that the wandering ghosts might possess children.
  • Chinese will not renovate or move house during this inauspicious month.
  • Chinese try to stay at home at night and will not go on overseas tripsDue to the rules that some Chinese still follow during this month most of the retail and travel agents' businesses will be affected. To belief it or not is up to you. This is a festival that is celebrated and observed by the Chinese through hundreds of years. Anyway while you are here be extra careful or if you are daring why not join the Singapore ghost tour to make your stay in Singapore interesting ? Who knows, you might be able to meet somebody from the other world.
Hungry Ghosts and Friday Night Fun
I just returned from several weeks in the States. I had planned to blog philosophically about being away and then coming back or about being a resident of two continents. But I just wasn't inspired until...
I was taking my morning jog and found food and drinks placed artfully on the sidewalk in front of a modern house. And then drove past a construction site with a huge iron mesh cage with burning ashes. And I remembered that Hungry Ghosts are out now and need to be feed - fed food and fake money. Homes create little tables for food offerings and businesses provide barrels or cages for employees to burn paper:
But sometimes the rain comes and makes a big mess of the pretty arrangement

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What is Hungry Ghost Festival?

Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the major festivals in Chinese culture. It is a month-long festival celebrated on the 7th Lunar month and this year, it fell on 1st August. On that day, it is believed that the “Gates of Hell” are opened and the dead will return to the human world. During this period, many Chinese will try to AVOID moving in to a new house, getting married, staying out late etc.

The food on the table are offerings for the restless souls wandering around during the one-month long Hungry Ghost Festival. My friend told me his friend who is able to see “things” saw those spirits grabbing the food to eat during the 7th Lunar month.

Sounds scary? Well, to appease the wandering spirits to prevent them from entering homes and causing disturbances, food such as chicken, rice, vegetables are placed along the roadside and street corners to making offerings to the spirits. Bundles of hell bank notes are burnt as offerings to the spirits for them to spend in hell. These hell bank notes come in different denominations! They are hell lots of big notes!!

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Discover the Hungry Ghost Festival of Singapore

Paper mache offerings which will be burnt as offerings to the Chinese deities/gods. (Photo credit: Singapore Tourism Board)
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated by Chinese in many countries — it begins the night of the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. On that night, some Chinese believe that the gates of heaven and hell open and the dead are released and allowed to roam the earth for a month. At this time, people will often burn offerings of incense, paper money and material goods such as houses, cars (with chauffeurs even!) and even modern items such as faux Louis Vuitton purses and cellphones. One of the key components of this festival is food — if you don’t want the ghosts to wreak havoc on your lives, you need to feed them. So at this time you’ll often see offerings of oranges, tea and other food set out on sidewalks to honor the dead. There are also some paper offerings of food that people may burn.

What sets the Singaporean Hungry Ghost Festival apart from the festival celebrated in China?

The festival is celebrated similarly in both China and Singapore — Chinese in both countries both do offerings of food and burn “Hell” bank notes to appease the ghosts. In Singapore, the festival is also marked by homespun outdoor concerts called “getai.” These usually take place in residential neighborhoods — a temporary stage is set up, usually in a field, and comedians, dance and Chinese opera troupes and singers of songs in Mandarin, Hokkien (also known as Fukienese) or Teochew will perform to entertain the ghosts and people.

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The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, or Yu Lan is a traditional Chinese festival and holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month (14th in southern China).
In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm.
Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in spring) and Chung Yeung Festival (in autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.
I see that your friend have shared with you a photo of a Toyota car that got partly burnt near a IMM carpark in Jurong East
The car belongs to me and that I am extremely pissed by the people burning the incense. Many of your readers speculated and say that my deserves to get burnt because I park near a Incense burner.
For your info, when I parked my car beside it no one was burning incense. Secondly, it should not my responsiblity to make sure that the incense paper does not fly onto my cars and catch fire. It should be the responsiblity of the people burning the incense.
I understand that it is Hungry Ghost festival now and my parents also burn incense paper during this period but they always make sure that the burning is controlled and they do not leave the area until all the papers were burnt and that there isn't any fire left in the incense burner.
At a getai, front row seats are reserved for spirits who return during the Hungry Ghost Festival (Zhong Yuan Jie)

The emcee engages the audience in witty dialect banter before introducing her next act. As the band begins to play, lighting and smoke effects are thrown into the mix and the performer belts out a Hokkien classic while dancing in her shimmering costume. The getai stage springs to life and the audience is enchanted.

A getai, in Chinese, means a song stage. It consists of variety performances, mostly made up of song and dance numbers. During the seventh month of the lunar calendar, getais are especially prominent in the heartlands, generating a lot of colour and noise.

It is customary at the getai for the first row of chairs to be left vacant for the spirits that are believed to roam our world during this month, which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. Some Chinese would also burn more offerings and pray to their ancestors during this month, as it is believed that the Gates of Hell are open to give spirits a free pass.

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