Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Fiery End of the Ghost Festival

The very large paper robe for non-earthly beings
Last night was the last day of the Hungry Ghost Festival.

In the past few weeks people have been setting up makeshift shrines along the side of the road, giving food offerings like chicken, pork, apples and oranges along with incense to give to spirits wandering around.

Paper stages filled with Chinese opera performers on the robe
It is believed during Ghost Month that the gates of hell open up and hungry ghosts come up and seek food and entertainment. And so apart from the food left for them along the streets, temporary buildings are set up made of bamboo but elaborately and brightly decorated so that the spirits can enjoy Chinese opera.

Dragging out Yan Wang -- check out his blue fist!
Many also burn hell money as well as "gold ingots" to in the hopes that the wandering spirits don't give them trouble by giving them enough money to live in the afterlife, which is believed to be very similar to the world us mortals live in, with everything from clothes to wear to officials to bribe.

I happened to have dinner with relatives at PMQ and I wandered up towards Staunton Street where a temporary building made of bamboo featured a large, fantastic looking paper robe fit for a non-human emperor.

The details of this colourful robe were amazing, featuring little pavillions with people inside them, and lots of fish along it.

This robe was in the centre of the temporary bamboo structure, while off to the far left side were Buddhists in yellow chanting prayers, and then next section had various offerings like pomelo and oranges. And then to the far right was a giant statue made of papier mache and bamboo.

After beating him they carry him to be burnt
Doing some research on Wikipedia, I think it matches the description of Yan Wang (閻王), the god of death and ruler of the underworld.

The face is described as menacing and from what I saw, this towering figure pretty much fit the bill with what looked like a dark blue face, mean eyes and his arms raised.

After the chanting was done, everyone was watching as people carefully removed the Yan Wang figure from the bamboo structure. Once they did that, they immediately started beating it with poles, and after several good whacks, they carried it to where hell money was being burnt to send this "god" to the underworld.

The robe with "gold" ingots hanging above
If it wasn't raining, the figure would have probably caught fire very quickly, so there was no pyrotechnic display.

I'd never seen the formal end of the Hungry Ghost Festival, so I'm glad I was able to catch it!


  1. Have never seen the festival. Happy to read your account of it!

    1. HI Anonymous! Thanks! I'm lucky to have caught it!