The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the best times of the year to soak in the local culture and observe traditional rites in hyper-modern Singapore.
Besides “money”, people have been known to burn paper replicas of anything they believe their deceased relatives might be craving in the afterlife – watches, jewellery, cars, luxury villas, sports cars, servants – even condoms and Viagra.
Just as the Americans have Halloween, the Chinese have the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Chinese), when the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth.
According to custom, these ghosts can get up to mischief if ignored so all sorts of offerings are made during this period, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar.
Making offeringsNotice those metal bins scattered around residential areas and housing estates?
They are specifically provided to contain the stacks of hell money and paper offerings, such as cars, watches and jewellery, that are burned by relatives to appease their deceased family members – taking care of their material needs even in the afterlife.
Do watch your step in case you trample on food left out in the open. Although many place their food offerings (oranges, rice or even suckling pig) and joss sticks on proper altars, others tuck them at the side of footpaths or even alongside trees.
Boisterous showsAnd as if satisfying the ghosts’ appetites for money and food wasn’t enough, taking care of their entertainment is also important.
Large tents are set up in open fields to host raucous dinners and auctions in heartland estates like Ang Mo Kio and Yishun. There are performances too, such as Chinese operas and 'getai' (literally ‘song stage’ in Chinese, or live stage performances), which feature tales of gods and goddesses, bawdy stand-up comedy, as well as song and dance numbers.
Everyone is welcome – so sit back and enjoy the show. Just remember not to sit in the front row, unless you want to rub shoulders with the ‘special guests’.
Times they are a-changin’A mainstay of the festival is the 'getai' performance, thrown as a popular mode of entertainment for the wandering spirits. But 'getai' today is a very different animal – jazzed up with snazzy LED panel lit stages. Young, sexy perfomers sing not just traditional songs in dialect but thumping techno versions of English and Mandarin pop ditties. It appears that even the tastes of the spiritual world are moving with the times.
Hungry Ghost Festival, Zhongyuan Festival, Yu Lan Pen Festival
The Ghost Festival (also known as Zhongyuan Festival by Taoists or Yu Lan Pen Festival by Buddhists) is the day to sacrifice to the deceased.
In Chinese culture, it is thought that all ghosts will come out from the hell on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, so the day is called the Ghost Day and the seventh lunar month is the Ghost Month (August 14th - September 12th 2015).
In China, people also have the custom of sacrificing the deceased on the Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, and the Double Ninth Festival. But different from these festivals, the Ghost Festival is the day that all ghosts will come out to visit the livings. Also, people only offer sacrifices to their ancestors and relatives on the above festivals, while during the Ghost Festival, besides ancestors and relatives, people will sacrifice to all the ghosts or spirits. The Ghost Festival is regarded as the most important one among all the festivals that sacrificing the deceased.
Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival)
Zhong Yuan Jie (中元节), 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.1 During this period, many Chinese worship their ancestors and make offerings to wandering souls that roam the earth.2
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.3
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.4