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Saturday August 24, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday August 24, 2013 MYT 10:05:14 AM
by stories andphotos by brenda ch’ng
Even rows of hampers like these are offered to keep the spirits satiated.
DO not stay out late, come home early as it is the Hungry Ghost Festival (Phor Thor, in Hokkien)!”
Chinese parents often say this to their children during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, where the streets are believed to be filled with roaming spirits.
Appeasing wandering spirits
According to the Taoists, the gates of heaven and hell are opened at this time allowing spirits a one-month free pass into the human world.
This year, it is believed the gates of the other realm will be open from Aug 7 until Sept 4.
Older generations believe that prayers should be conducted and food offerings given to appease the wandering spirits throughout the month. People are also asked to pray at home to ancestors on the actual day of the festival this year which was on Aug 21.
However, some of these traditions are slowly dying among the younger generation as most are not aware of why the occasion is observed.
“I believe in ghosts but I don’t see why I should pay homage to them ... I will not make any attempt to mark this festival,” said graphic designer M.Y. Chin.
Chin, in her 30s, said that she would only pray at temples if her parents took her there.
The Sarawakian said she would adhere to what her elders advised, namely not to stay out late and not to hang laundry out to dry at night during the festival.
Roger Yang, in his 20s, admitted that he would be fearful during the Hungry Ghost month.
“I do not want the spirits to disturb me so I will do whatever I have been told to do during this period,” he said.
Yang, who is an engineer, prays at home to his deceased ancestors during the 15th day of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar.
Praying for good luck
Poh Toh Association Subang Jaya chairman Yee Wing Chien said many only took the Taoist festival seriously when they experienced bad luck.
“Most people do not believe in the Phor Thor festival and it is not easy to convince them unless they encounter misfortune or have sleepless nights,” said Yee.
Relating his own experience, Yee said he travelled out of state every month. He said he had frequently got into road accidents and experienced breakdowns no matter how careful he was.
Yee said his luck changed once he started believing and paying homage to the wandering spirits every year.
“I pray to make peace with the wandering spirits so that they do not stand in my way or disturb me when I’m out and about,” he said.
He said those who prayed to the giant effigies of the Tai Su Yeah (King of Hades) and fed the wandering spirits were mostly businessman.
Many companies, businessmen and individuals donate thousands of ringgit towards the festival, which usually lasts three days.
The same dates are observed every seventh month of the year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
“If we change the dates then the hungry ghosts will not have any food to eat.
“They come out on the same day every year expecting food,” said another Phor Thor organiser, who only wants to be known as Soon.
Cultural performances staged
In Kepong, there are about 20 to 30 events organised by various groups throughout the month.
“Thirty years ago there was only one in each area but now there are more businessmen willing to donate so their businesses will flourish,” said Soon.
The 45-year-old has been organising Phor Thor events for over a decade and highlights that each could cost between RM100,000 and RM500,000.
To further appease the spirits and the King of Hades, puppet shows and traditional opera will be staged usually in the Hokkien or Teochew dialect. The performances usually tell a story about having good family values and for children to be filial to their parents.
“There are over 300 kinds of stories,” said 60-year-old puppeteer Ng Chin Chai from Johor.
Ng, who has been performing since he was 16 years old, has about 280 puppets that were handcrafted by his great-grandfather while the costumes were hand-stitched by his great-grandmother.
He won a puppet show competition in China in 2010 and is well known among the Taoist community.
Ng has performed at 10 different venues so far. He said a full two-hour performance would require at least 20 different puppets.
The father of five explained that performances have to follow certain timings and story lines so as not to offend the gods or spirits.
“We normally stage shows at 2pm and 8pm.
“First there will be hand-puppets followed by string-puppets, which are fitted with about 33 strings so that more actions can be performed,” he said.
The skilled grandfather of eight is helped by four to six people, including two sons who are determined to keep the tradition alive.
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