Hungry Ghost Festival (21 August, 2013 – 4 September 2013)
The 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar is a time when the gates of Hell are opened and spirits roam the earth freely. During this month, Chinese Taoists and Buddhists make nightly offerings of food along the roads for wandering spirits while temples organise free stage performances to appease and entertain the souls. These include modern ko tai (singing and dancing) performances as well as traditional opera and puppet shows. Everyone is invited but please refrain from sitting on the bright red benches (usually placed right in front of the stage) as these are purposely left empty for the “special guests”!
It is taboo to get married or to move into a new place during this month-long festival. At common community areas like the market, altars with scary-looking effigies of the Phor Tor Kong or King of Hades (he keeps the spirits from creating mischief among the living) are put up. Food offerings are then placed on the altar for the underworld deity. Bukit Mertajam (mainland Penang) boasts of having the largest King of Hades effigy in the whole country!
On the 30 th day of the festival, the spirits return to Hell at the stroke of midnight. Giant paper effigies of the King of Hades and Hell money are burnt for the spirits to take “home”.