The Chinese also regard the ghosts of the dead like many other global cultures. For that, they perform special rituals and customary celebrations in dedicated months. The folk religion related to these customs is called Daoism. The ghosts are believed to be visiting in the seventh lunar month which is also called the Hungry Ghost Month. It’s also the time for the Hungry Ghost festival where special ceremonies and precautionary rituals take place.
Some Facts Related To the Hungry Ghost Festival
This festival is celebrated in the seventh lunar month (usually July or August as per the western calendar) on its 15th day. On the other hand, certain Southern Chinese people celebrate it on the 14th day of the same month. This is because South China communities started celebrating this festival earlier during wartime for preventing an enemy attack on this pious event.
The hungry ghost festival is a traditional Chinese festival for ancestor worship. Some similar festivals include Double Ninth Festival, Qingming Festival, and Spring Festival. This festival is held more important than the Double Ninth and Qingming festival in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. The Hungry Ghost festival is known as the Zhongyuan festival in Taoist culture and the Yulanpen festival in Buddhist culture.
The festival involves special ceremonies for pleasing the spirits and avoiding their attack. At dusk, the main ceremony is held. The ancestral family tables, photos, paintings are arranged on a table and incense sticks are burnt around them. Food is also put out on the table for the spirits. People also kowtow to the spirits for seeking blessings or punishments for their behavior. They hold a grand feast and regard their lost ancestors by leaving a place for them.
The old ghosts are considered hungry seeking satiation on land for two weeks. To feed and please them is the main aim of the Hungry Ghost month rituals.
About The Hungry Ghost Month
In the Chinese lunar calendar, the seventh month is also called the Ghost month that includes the important Hungry Ghost festival.
This month has been the scariest time for Chinese people ever. It is believed that the ghosts of dead ancestors are released from hell at the start of this month. The presence of these spirits everywhere around makes people avoid going out alone in the dark or swimming.
Generally, these ghosts are believed to be angry and hurtful. The Chinese, thus, perform traditions on the 1st, 14th, and 15th day of this month for dealing with these ghosts.
First Day Rituals in the Hungry Ghost Month
The major activity involves making fake paper money at different places like houses, shops, roadside, fields, temples, etc. This money is dedicated to the ghosts during this month as offerings by burning them.
The hungry ghosts are also given sacrificial food offerings and worshipping with incense sticks. People believe to make the ghosts happy and satisfied with these ways to prevent their curse. Red paper lanterns are also made and hung at different places like homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits.
Ceremonies are carried out in streets, markets, and temples. In the market and street ceremonies, common people gather around for the festival celebration. In the temple ceremonies, monks perform various festival rituals.
Last Day Rituals in the Hungry Ghost Month
It is believed that the gates of hell close on the last day of this month and this is celebrated with a special event. People perform various rituals for this. They burn even more money and clothes as a final offering to the ghosts going back to hell. Once the month ends, the ancestral tablets and photos are kept back.
For the incessantly nonchalant ghosts, special chants are made by Taoist monks for driving them away by force. The ghosts hate the sounds of these chants and leave wailing.
People also make bright colorful lanterns from paper and wood and put names of their ancestors on them. Then, they float these lanterns on small boats in the river. This is to guide the ghosts to their final destination.
Historical Briefing of the Hungry Ghost Festival
There exist no certain historical traces of the Hungry Ghost month and festival. Different Asian cultures like India, Japan, Cambodia, etc. share rituals related to the dead. These seem to be older than the period of Buddha.
One such ancient folk religion is the indigenous Chinese religion called Taoism. Its customs believe that ghosts are released from hell in this month who then seek food or revenge from people. Chants are made by Taoists for freeing these spirits.
Another culture holds that few wild spirits are released from hell by Yama (lord of the hell) to let them enjoy the sacrificial celebrations performed on earth this month. Chinese also believe that their ancestors from heaven come too that calls for their worship as well.
Comparing the Hungry Ghost Festival with Halloween Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated during the summer end when it’s a full moon. Thus, it can be seen as following up the West’s Halloween festival or Night of the Dead.
Global cultures regard ghosts and spirits on dedicated days. These customs existed in many ancient tribal folk cultures dating older than Christianity. Halloween emerged in Britain as an offshoot of the Celtic holidays in October. Ghosts were believed to transcend the boundaries between the living and dead realms during this time.
Chinese hold a similar belief too where the Ghost month is the time when a bridge forms between the two realms on full moon night. Thus, they must practice honorary rituals for the dead with precautions against evil spirits. The ceremonies and rituals are also aimed at preventing the pranks by spirits along with worshipping the famous and good spirits. Pleasing the good spirits can protect and help the people too.
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