Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the many festival or celebration that the Chinese still practice in Malaysia especially the Northern Malaysia. In Penang you will find it throughout the 7th of the lunar Chinese month.
This culture has been practice by the Chinese since the Chin Dynasty in China. It is believed that the Gates of Hell are opened, all ghosts or spirits are allow to return to Earth, and for those whom have no relative or descendant or family home will roam around without place to stay, visit or food to eat are welcome to this festival offering.
A huge effigy of Phor Thor Kong or King of ghost is made from Paper sitting majestically at the center of the praying place. One has to look out for the small effigy of Goddess of Mercy at the of top head of the big effigy and one is wandering why??? It is believed that this small Goddess of Mercy control the King of Ghost.
For those whom believed will spend a lot of money to please the King of Ghost by making huge offering of foods and burning a lot of Haven Money and papers.
The legend says that one of the Buddha's disciple saw his mother during his meditating and he tried to feed his mother with food but his mother could not eat the food which he is trying to feed her. Feeling very sad and was very worried that his mother could not eat the food which he brought, then he went to see Buddha and ask Buddha why his mother could not eat the food he brought to her. Buddha told him that for a roaming soul they have their time for food and that is during the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. That is the believed of the legend. Lets be peace among Human, Soul, Spirit and Ghost. Amen
Cheng Beng - a special day to remembering the dearly departed. My mother and father urns are placed at Batu Gantung Columbarium Hokkien Cemetary. I can't help by closing my eyes and break down to cry, I missed my mother so much. Even crying writing this tips..huhuhu..
Every year the Cheng Beng date on 5th April, you can Cheng Beng 10days early or after the actual date. In Penang, you can see Chinese community at the graveyard, weeding and cleaning the graves, stick a lot of decorations on the graves then offering food, burning joss-stick, hell notes, silver and gold bars, so they can use the money in the other world. Clothes, shoes, may be a big house with car & driver, some even have travelling air ticket and passport for travelling. hmmmm....
So, here my sister and I prayed my father and mother, inviting them to go home on the actual date of Cheng Beng, together with other departed relatives to enjoy another feast of food and more hell notes.
Traditionally, if a person donate a certain amount of money to the temple, his/her name will be appeared on the wall forever, this is to let later peoples know this, this and this person donated this much of money to this temple. When you visit temples in Penang, you can notice not only the wall have names of donators, nowadays temples accept creativities, they let the names of donators appear on the roof tiles.
It is an old custom of ancient China “Liu-Fang-Bai-Si”, it means immortalized. The purpose is to let a person’s name shine for hundreds of centuries, so, in order to let your name shine that long, you should donate money to temples.
Sky God (TneeKong) is installed in front of nearly every Malaysian-Chinese (Tanglang) house. Tanglang have so many Gods to pray, however they like to pray Sky God and Earth God at home. Both Sky & Earth Gods are as important, both are peaceful Gods, sometimes due to limited spaces, some households only display a Sky God or just a Earth God.
Praying Sky God is very easy, you just burn a few joss-sticks, buy some fresh fruits / flowers and then place it on the Sky God’s altar, always make sure the joss-sticks are standing and burning, so you pray, request money, request peaceful life, request good hsband/wife, etc, that’s about it, very simple and easy, you can do it too.
As a tourist, it is absolutely ok to walk into any temples of Malaysian-Chinese to pray, even though you only want to take photos, not necessary faith, nobody cares what you do, and make sure you get someone to take photos for you, enjoy.
The procedure is very simple, you only need to kneel on one of the mini sofas and your eyes staring at the God statues in front of you, then make sure you do it sincerely as if you are one of the devotees and also make sure you clasp hands (put your palms together) and pray. Some devotees knock their forehead on the floor three times after pray (kow tow), but this is not a must.
Pray what sir? Well you can pray like what Penangite pray, mostly pray for good fortune, healthy, safe travel, pray for children, request something, etc.
But I can tell you the truth, most peoples actually go to temples to pray for money, they kneel there and they prayed to God to request for money. Some peoples still pray for peace and some pray for ‘gao-taad-chek’ (good school results) which is to score 100 points in school, some pray for marriage, some request a good husband/wife, etc.
Joss-sticks is religious material created specifically for praying, not necessary in temples, you can pray anywhere, we Penangite called it ‘Hnyioa’, the pronunciation is a bit tough for you, anyway it is called Joss-sticks or incense sticks. Interesting? If you want to learn, I can teach for free.
The basic steps are as follow. Pick up not more than ten sticks of Hnyioas and hold them sincerely. Look for fire or simply use the modern lighter to burn the end portion of those Joss-sticks. Do it sincerely and concentrate, don't make jokes. The burning process is exactly as how we setup the mosquito coil.
Second step is to hold the Joss-sticks palm to palm sincerely, make sure your eyes are looking at the God statues in the temple. Do not ask scientific questions and do not analyze. Now, palm to palm holding the Hnyioas, sincerely, pray for whatever you want in whatever languages you like.
You can also perform the trendy up-to-date ‘gangsterism’ praying technique of Hong Kong, it is a stylish praying technique created by Hong Kong movie stars. Gangsters cannot hold the Joss-sticks palm to palm, not cool, they prefer holding it with 2 fingers, only fingers of each hand, ok, isn’t it cool? They lift the joss-sticks up, with 2 fingers only, let the fingers stay still on the forehead, eyes closing and keep silent for 2 minutes.
Mooi-Angkong is a Penang custom of my hometown where human (anyone) can communicate with God. ‘Mooi’ is asking, Angkong is Penangite’s God, translated to English is, God-Asking.
I recall my high school friend Ah Beng who has a mother often goes to seek help in temple. She went to temple and asked all about Ah Beng’s life, future, education, health, etc. God-Asking is a traditional business opened to public, anyone seeking help can go to temple and must pay ‘Oil-refilling-money’ which is a consultation fee for the ‘master’. This person known as ‘master’ usually can be found in temples, he/she appeared in traditional religious costume and it is believed this person has inborn (or well trained) superhuman skills that able to communicate with God.
The master, when performing the ‘communicate with God ritual’ would first stay extreme silent for a while and then slowly his/her mouth keep mumbling and in between his/her hand pick up a red pencil and starts to write ‘God words’ on a piece of small yellow paper, this piece of small yellow paper with red ‘God words’ is called Hoo (Taoist magic figures or incantations).
After ritual, the master would explain a little about the instructions of Hoo, well sometimes it depends, in some temples, the master’s assistant give instructions to you. The basic instruction is generally the same, you should bring Hoo back home, treat it nicely and then you should burn the Hoo by fire, sincerely, and then you pick up the ashes of Hoo and put into a glass of clean water cleansed by 7 colorful fresh flowers, stir and drink.
Hoo or Hoos (singular and plural) are actually medicines for healing and solving Penangite's matters, it is a small piece of yellow paper about 5cm X 20cm as shown in the photo. The person who seek help from the master must pay the Oil-refilling-money, I’m not so sure the cost, some people pay more, some pay less, flexible.
The booklet that I am holding in the photo is a reprint of ancient Chinese-Buddhist sutra. In most of the Penang temples, usually, they have these kind of free of charge booklets for devotees to read. Temple visitors in Penang can take one or two booklets, but please drop a dollar into the donation box.
It is not easy for foreign visitors to identify which temple are Buddhist and which are Taoist. Penang alone has Buddhism, Taoism, clanism, ancestorism and mix-rojak temples. One good example is Kek-lok-si temple, this one is a mixed-temple which displayed Buddhist statues, Taoist statues and many other statues of Chinese Gods, even names of modern peoples are involved.
The temple is, we called it “supermarket temple” but perhaps I was wrong as modern days we should accepts all possibilities. Anyway, the booklet is worth reading, please remember to take one with you and donate some money although it’s free of charge.
That day I went to Kek-Lok-Si and I saw a few turtles in weird colors, some in red and some in golden colors. I contemplated for a while and I want to share it with you. Some visitors, I am not sure who, 99.9% Tanglangs (Malaysian-Chinese) of whom with big ambition to strike lottery, went to Kek-Lok-Si temple to paint the turtle’s shell into red and gold colors, the purpose of doing so was, ‘red & gold’ represent good fortune, so they believe a person sincerely coloring turtle’s shell red and gold, the good fortune can go to that person.
They did this kind of ‘red gold’ stuff on any possible objects. So now you are looking at a victim of ‘red gold’ paints, interesting local custom, this is Penang, welcome.
There is this famous Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas, Penang.
Even snakes can bring good luck, if you pray correctly. Or are the snakes incidental ?
I don't know much about these practices, sorry to say.
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