I asked my mom about Hungry Ghost Festival this morning, but she quickly stopped me. "Don't say ghost." Mark was in the other room and didn't hear her scold me. So twenty minutes later, when a bedroom door slammed from the wind, Mark yelled out 'Ghost'!
I didn't mention to my superstitious mom that I would be writing ghost all over my blog today...
In Penang, Hungry Ghost Festival is observed by the Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, who believe that the restless spirits of their ancestors roam the earth for the month that the gates of hell open. Since the nights are for the wandering spirits, people come home early every night during the month. Food offerings are placed on the sidewalk in front of homes, so that the 'hungry' ghosts eat outside instead of entering the home for food. This is especially important if you think an angry spirit is coming back for revenge!
You can hear Chinese mothers and grandmothers asking the younger people to avoid going near to the pool or ocean, since the ghosts can drag you into the water. Even more hair-raising is the legend that the King of Hell once ate a baby who was placed at the alter table accidentally by the mother. So the believers would warn you not to place anything other than food on the altar table. As if there aren’t enough spooky tales around during Hungry Ghost Festival, the TV networks also screen ghost movies to heighten the drama.
Despite its superstitious culture, the festival is about fostering a closer relationship between human and spirits. Followers will burn giant incense sticks in front of their homes and offer prayers to appease the gods and spirits. The Chinese people will also perform ceremonies to cleanse and reconcile the souls of all beings.
At night, modern staged concerts (ko tai), Chinese Opera, and puppet shows are organised to entertain the ghosts. Just don’t sit in the first row of chairs when watching a show as they are reserved for the visiting spirits.
To experience Hungry Ghost Festival, Penang is definitely the place to be.
I was impressed to see that the traditional Chinese opera has now gone up a notch with the use of technology to translate the dialect to Mandarin subtitles to appeal to a younger audience.
Huge effigy of King of Hell sits at the main table of the altar where food offering is placed. Packaged foods are used these days.