POTD: Paying respect & entertaining hungry ghosts from Hell

The seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar is the ghost month, when the hungry ghosts from Hell are released to visit their relatives on earth – and get a good meal as well.

As the seventh lunar month approaches, huge marquees are set up in many places in preparation for festivities. All photos taken with a Nikon D5200 with AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens. Photo credit: John Tan.

As the seventh lunar month approaches, huge marquees are set up in many places in preparation for festivities. All three photos taken with a Nikon D5200 with AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm DX f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens. Photo credit: John Tan.

Since this is the hungry ghost month, I will be featuring photos that I take during visits to celebratory activities surrounding the festival.

The festival has its origins from the buddhist scriptures and is celebrated by both Buddhist and Taoist believers in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia etc.

An altar in the marquee pacifying the agents of Hell with offerings and (to the left) wads of Hell cash.

An altar in the marquee pacifying the agents of Hell with offerings and (to the left) wads of Hell cash.

The main theme is filial piety.

One of Buddha’s disciples visited his mother in hell and found her languishing as a “hungry ghost” (that’s a specific genre of ghost) which was perennially – what else – hungry.

She had apparently been stingy towards hosting Buddhist monks whilst indulging herself with the money that her son had left her.

As a punishment by the judges of hell, she was transformed into a hungry ghost after her death.

Buddha taught the son how to redeem his mother and the filial son succeeded after much effort to help his mother get reborn as a human.

As a reward for his filial piety, the seventh lunar month was declared a temporary period of amnesty for the hungry ghosts – the gates of hell are opened so the hungry ghosts are allowed to roam the earth to seek food and entertainment, and to visit their living relatives.

This altar features, on one side, Mr Horse-Face (马面)who is half of a pair of Hell officials (牛头马面)whose jobs are to bring spirits of the deceased to hell.

This altar features, on one side, Mr Horse-Face (马面)who is half of a pair of Hell officials (牛头马面)whose jobs are to bring spirits of the deceased to hell.

During this period, Buddhist and Taoist believers would prepare lavish spreads of food (cooked and dried food) on altars as offerings to their ancestors and to wandering hungry ghosts who do not have any living relatives.

Joss sticks as well as paper cash, cars, iPhones etc are also burnt in the belief that these would be converted to the equivalent form that their dead ancestors could peruse.

These mass celebrations can be done on any day of the ghost month but most do it on the 14th or 15th day, which is recognised as the main day of celebrations.

In some countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, live shows – called Ge Tai – are also put up to entertain the hungry ghosts that visit.

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