I bet you already know that it’s the Hungry Ghost Festival currently. During the Ghost Month the realms of Heaven and Hell are open, which releases ghosts, spirits including those of the deceased ancestors to roam the living world.
So, the Chinese are often advised to stay at home and prevent from going out late at night to avoid any unfortunate incidents that are believed to be caused by some mischievous hungry ghosts. There are also plenty of taboos to observe too, for example not to simply pee at the streets (especially true for kids) or referring the ghosts as your ‘heng dai’ or ‘hia ti’ (buddies).
When I was a child I used to believe in such things but as I grew up, these beliefs slowly vanished. My mom would bring me to Jalan Pasar in Bukit Mertajam where the festival has always been held to pay respects to the dead, and of course to seek protection and good luck from the ‘Tai Su Yah‘ (King of Hades). He is, after all the ruler of the underworld.
Although the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated all around Malaysia, the celebration is usually done in greater scale in Penang. If you didn’t know, the first Phor Thor celebration in Malaysia was held in Penang in 1965, which means we were the pioneers.
And I don’t know if I should be proud of this but the Bukit Mertajam’s Phor Thor committee always come out with a really menacing-looking effigy of the underworld ruler. I used to be very afraid of him, very afraid. Heck, which kid wouldn’t be?
The amount of details that were put into creating the effigy is just simply stunning. We used to make the largest effigy in Malaysia too. But this year I think the largest one is created in Selangor, which even made into the Malaysia Book of Records.
So what is a non-believer doing in a Hungry Ghost Festival you ask? Well I was there simply for the food (according to my sis there’s a kick-ass Jawa Mee here) and to capture the festival in images. When there’s a festival, there’s hawker stalls to be found.
True to my sis’ claim, the Jawa Mee here is really delicious. Cheap too considering it was only RM3.20 a plate with extra prawn fritters. The fritters and crackers were crunchy, the sambal was a perfect complement, and the gravy was oh so flavorful. And this is coming from a person who actually dislikes Jawa Mee!
Loh Bak was not bad too, I liked the spicy and starchy dipping condiments. And now, for the rest of the images of the festival.
Large pillar-like Dragon joss sticks at the entrance of the festival.
A burning incense stick with the Pek Kong Cheng temple in the background.
Devotees praying to Tai Su Yah.
Jee Pek (Second Uncle), one of the assistants to Tai Su Yah.
Teow Chew steamed buns stacked up, for what I am unsure of. Maybe as decoration?
Joss paper folded into ingots and then stacked into an elaborate pagoda shape.
Offerings made to the deceased like food including roast piglet, fruits, buns, candies and not to mention hell notes too.
An elderly lady lighting her joss sticks outside the temple.
Phor Thor committee members clearing up excessive candles and incense sticks from the urns to create space for other devotees.
好兄弟公 – ‘Ho Hiah Di Gong’, where the wandering spirits and ghosts are appeased by offering them prayers and food by distributing the food offerings under the table.
Tai Zu Yah is worshiped mainly by the opera singers.
Tai Zu Yah had devotees offering candies and biscuits. A father was seen holding his daughters hand to wipe the face of the statue as a gesture of asking for blessing and good fortune.
Small Hungry Ghost Festival flags (written as Yu-Lan festival here)
A Chinese stage opera next to the Pek Kong Cheng food court to entertain the living and the dead. I am glad that it wasn’t a Ko-Tai with sexy singers and dancers.
As technology advances, traditional stage operas have a technology twist – now even with subtitles displayed on electronic message boards!
At the end of the festival, the paper effigy would be burnt along with the offerings to mark the sending off of the deity. So far, I have yet to witness this ceremony in real yet but I plan to do so this year. So have you attended any Hungry Ghost Festival in your area?