The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Taoist festival held annually among the Chinese community in Malaysia. This is the day when the gates of hell are opened up, and ghosts are free to roam the earth to visit the living, and partake in food and entertainment. This year’s Ghost Festival was on 25th August, the 15th. night of the 7th. month (also known as the Ghost Month) in the Chinese lunar calendar. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is veneration of the dead, Taoists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Activities include elaborate ritualistic prayers, food offerings, burning of incense, joss paper, banknotes and papier mâché items such as houses, clothing, gold bars and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives or bring misfortune.
Communal celebrations are common, held over a 3-4 day period, and organised by the local temples committee funded from contributions of the local residents and businesses. An elaborate makeshift altar and entertainment stage is set-up for the celebration, with a ‘King of Hades’ effigy taking center stage accompanied by effigies of other deities and paraphernalia. Throughout the days, priests perform ceremonies and rituals for the benefit of the ghosts; folks will drop by to mingle, perform prayers and offer food/drink/material offerings to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.
To keep the ghosts and folks entertained, traditionally Chinese operas or puppet shows are staged; but these days, in keeping with current trends and attract the younger generation’s participation, contemporary song and dance performances are more the norm.
At midnight on the last day of the celebrations, the ghosts are ‘ushered’ back to hell with a closing prayer and burning of the effigies, paraphernalia and material items offered. The effigies catches fire instantly from the burning prayer materials and turns into a blazing inferno within seconds, with the folks hastily stepping back to keep away from the blazing intense heat. As the effigies and material offerings burn, folks make their final prayers, in hope that their ancestors or deceased family members are satisfied with their offerings for the year and bequeath good fortune to them.
All photos: Pentax SMC M 35mm f2.8 lens