The 7th month in the Lunar calendar is the "Hungry Ghost Festival" or "Phor Thor" as it is locally known. This festival is celebrated by the Chinese community and is on a grand scale in the island state of Penang.
The Chinese believe that on this 7th Lunar month, the Gates of Hades will open allowing hungry (thus stray and wandering) ghosts to freely roam the earth, the land of the living. Offerings of food and material items for the afterlife are made to appease and ward off bad luck. Opera performances, stage and puppet shows performed on outdoor stages in neighborhoods are also set up for the entertainment of the roaming beings. Front-row seats are reserved for them.
In Penang, this festival is widely celebrated with scheduled performances throughout the island and throughout the entire Hungry Ghost Fesitval. This year, the 7th month began on Aug 20 and will end on Sept 18. There is much excitement and activity around this festival. These events are held at night.
One important character in this festival is "Taai Si Wong" or "Tua Lau Eaa". He is built to act as the King of the festival to ensure the ghosts are behaving and everything at the festival has been completed properly. At the end of the festival, the effigy of "Taai Si Wong"or "Tua Lau Eaa" is burnt with joss paper to send him back to where he came from until the following year. In Penang, the largest "Taai Si Wong"or "Tua Lau Eaa" is located at Market Street, Bukit Mertajam.
This large scale celebration is normally participated by those who are in business with the hope of a better year ahead at the same time thanking the spirits for success in the current and previous year.
Families who are not in business do their part albeit on a smaller scale. Families who perform this ceremony are only those from the Buddhist faith. Depending on their dialect of origin, either the 14th or 15th day of the 7th lunar month is the day to conduct the prayer.
As they are HUNGRY ghosts, obviously they are hovering outside the home and out there on the streets. So prayers and offerings are conducted outside in public, by the roadside. You might have noticed some praying these few days.
Joss sticks and candles will be lit in a row with offerings of food and drinks, mainly Chinese tea laid out in teacups. After about 30 minutes or so, material things for the afterlife will be offered by way of burning them. They include money, gold and silver ingots (all in paper form, of course), clothes and colourful fabrics. Burning converts the items from our paper form to their legal tender and enable them to be received. Because they are hungry and wandering having no family to take care of their welfare, these offerings would help alleviate a little of their hardship in the afterlife until the next year. (I feel sad just writing this.)
It is because of these spirits wandering around during this one month, that traditional Chinese families discourage their offspring from hanging out too late at night or engage in any water activity. Reminders of being careful on the road, especially driving a vehicle, are often heard. So, be careful out there this time of the year.
This festival of the Hungry Ghost is celebrated all over Malaysia wherever there is a sizable Chinese Buddhist community. Every town and city would be having similar opera and stage shows though puppet shows are a rare treat.
If you are in Kuala Lumpur, head on down to Chinatown for the opera performances and don't leave home without your camera or videocam.
If you intend to visit Penang to witness this annual festival and have memories to take back of a Malaysian festival, below is a list of performances and their venue courtesy of the Penang State Tourism Development, Culture, Arts and Heritage site compiled by Persatuan Tiong Guan Pulau Pinang:.
Teow Chew Opera Shows:
1) 19th - 2nd Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Pasar, Bukit Mertajam
2) 19th - 22nd Aug 7.30pm @ 1108-A, MK 13, Jalan Paya Terubong, Penang
3) 19th - 23rd Aug 7.30pm @ Vacant land at 24, Lorong Seck Chuan, Penang
4) 20th - 26th Aug 7.30pm @ Vacant land at 1006, Mk 2, Bayan Lepas, Penang
5) 21st - 23rd Aug 7.30pm @ Vacant land at 291, Jelutong Barat, Penang
6) 23rd - 26th Aug 7.30pm @ Vacant land at 618-A Jalan Ayer Itam, Penang
7) 23rd - 25th Aug 7.30pm @ Taman Tun Sardon, Glugor, Penang
8) 24th - 25th Aug 7.30pm @ Tingkat Paya Terubong, Penang
9) 25th - 27th Aug 7.30pm @ 615, Jalan Jelutong, Penang
10) 26th - 28th Aug 7.30pm @ 534A Tanjong Bungah, Penang
11) 27th - 5th Sept 7.30pm @ In front of Block 1, Taman Sri Bunga, Jelutong
12) 28th - 1st Sept 7.30pm @ Vacant land at Brown Estate, Penang
13) 30th - 31st Aug 7.30pm @ 247, Jalan Himat Relau / Jalan Bukit Kechil, penang
14) 30t - 1st Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Mount Erskine, Penang
15) 30th - 1st Sept 7.30pm @ Vacant land at Lintang Paya Terubong, Penang
16) 31st - 2nd Sept 7.30pm @ Behind market of Lip Sim Lama, Penang
17) 2nd - 3rd Sept 7.30pm @ 663B Sungai Ara, 11700 Penang
18) 4th - 6th Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Phee Choon and Penang Road
19) 5th - 7th Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Mount Erskine, Penang
20) 6th - 8th Sept 7.30pm @ 29-31 Lorong Kinta, Penang
21) 6th - 10th Sept 7.30pm @ Inside Pusat Belia, Lebuh Achin, Penang
22) 8th - 11th Sept 7.30pm @ Beside 1028A, Jalan Rambai 1, Penang
23) 8th - 12th Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Semak Api, Penang
24) 11th - 12th Sept 7.30pm @ Block 6, Lintang Kg Melayu, Penang
25) 12th - 13th Sept 7.30pm @ 74, Jalan Tanjong Tokong, Penang
26) 12th - 16th Sept 7.30pm @ 591, Jalan Teluk Awak, Tanjung Bungah, Penang
27) 15th - 16th Sept 7.30pm @ Block 7A, Lebuhraya Thean Teik, Air Itam, Penang
28) 15th - 17th Sept 7.30pm @ 1, Jalan Anson Pasar, Penang
29) 16th - 18th Sept 7.30pm @ 308, Jalan Jelutong, Penang
30) 19th - 21st Sept 7.30pm @ 725F Jalan Sungai Dua, Penang
Hokkien Opera Shows:
1) 20th - 22nd Aug 7.30pm @ Lorong Selamat, Penang
2) 20th - 22nd Aug 7.30pm @ Vacant land at Taman Free School, Penang
3) 25th - 26th Aug 7.30pm @ Temple Jeutong timor (Pentas Tetap)
4) 26th - 28th Aug 7.30pm @ Tanjong Tokong Laut (Pentas Tetap)
5) 26th - 29th Aug 7.30pm @ Lebuh Tye Sin, Penang
6) 1st - 3rd Sept 7.30pm @ Jalan Osman Bin kadir, West Jelutong, Penang
7) 3rd - 6th Sept 7.30pm @ Lebuh Raya Thean Teik, Farlim, Penang
8) 4th - 7th Sept 7.30pm @ Rumah Pangsa, Noordin Street, Penang
9) 4th - 8th Sept 7.30pm @ Car park of Lebuh Nagore, Penang
10) 13th - 14th Sept 7.30pm @ 32, Lorng Prangin, Penang
Cantonese Opera Shows:
1) 29th - 1st Sept 7.30pm @ In front of Jalan Semak Seni Pelangi, Penang
1) 20th - 21st Aug 8.30pm @ Jalan Lenggong, Pulau Pinang
2) 27th - 29th Aug 2.30pm @ Lorong Samak Api 1, Penang
3) 1st - 2nd Sept 2.30pm @ In front of 192, Carnarvon Street, Penang
4) 1st - 3rd Sept 2.30pm @ Lot 2466 Kampung Jawa, Penang
5) 2nd - 3rd Sept 2.30pm @ In front of 717D Sungai Dua, Penang
6) 11th - 12th Sept 2.30pm @ Tanjung Bungah, 11200 Penang
A Puppet show..
Penang State Tourism Development, Culture, Arts and Heritage site
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