Malaysia Hungry Ghost Month

Malaysia Hungry Ghost Month

The Hungry Ghost Month in Malaysia takes place for an entire month in August and spills over to September, and in Chinese belief, this is the month to be extra cautious in doing many things.

Usually, during this ghost month or Hungry Ghost Festival, there are many ‘pantang larang‘ which should be observed from the local Chinese people here. Well, even if you are not Chinese, you can learn a thing or two about this.

Hungry Ghost Month in Malaysia

The ghost month is observed with prayers and offerings to the afterlife or spirits every year. This is when the gates of hell are opened, allowing the ancestral spirits and the lonely spirits to wander and roam the land of the living.

During this period, you will see roadside offerings of food, sweets, candles and joss sticks to the wandering spirits. Homes will perform cleansing in their own ways by burning Kemenyan and by using other herbs as well.

The more modern Chinese will perform a home or space cleansing by using Palo Santo, White Sage or even Frankincense Resin as these are equally effective and give out a slightly higher vibration. The urban market also prefers these as they smell much better and is way more soothing to the surroundings.

Oferings for Hungry Ghost Month
Offerings performed by the road are a common sight during the ghost month—photo by Malay Mail.

Ghost Month Activities

Activities during the Hungry Ghose Festival ((盂蘭節) would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a paper-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors as a way to transfer them to the afterlife.

Often, there would be elaborate meals (vegetarian meals) served with empty seats for each deceased in the family, treating the deceased as if they are still living. This is a common practice among those who have been following the traditions for generations.

Other festivities may include buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

When is the Hungry Ghost Month in Malaysia for 2021?

This years ghost month takes place from 8 August to 6 September 2021. Because the country is undergoing the National Recovery Plan (NRP) for Covid 19, many restrictions have been placed.

States in Malaysia are on different phases of the NRP, and below are the details;

Phase 1 NRP – Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Only 12 committee members are allowed to be present at the houses of worship, while visitors are not allowed.

Phase 2 NRP – Kelantan, Terengganu, Perak, Pahang, Penang, Sabah and the southern zone areas of Sarawak (Kuching, Bau, Lundu, Samarahan, Simunjan, Asajaya, Serian and Tebedu).

Religious activities are allowed, but attendance at temples is limited to only 12 people, including the committee members. The permitted operation time is from 6.00 am to 2.00 pm and from 4.00 pm to 8.00 pm.

Phase 3 NRP – Perlis, Labuan and parts of Sarawak, namely North Zone (Miri, Limbang, Bintulu), Central Zone (Sibu, Mukah, Kapit) and West Zone (Sarikei, Betong, Sri Aman).

Attendance at temples is limited to 50% of the capacity of the prayer area. The permitted operation time is from 6.00 am to 2.00 pm and from 4.00 pm to 10.00 pm.

The main festival night for 2021 will fall on August 22, a Sunday.

Malaysia Ghost Month Concert
This year, there will not be any Ghost Month concerts due to the Covid 19 pandemic—photo by Malay Mail.

Why are the Spirits Visiting during the Ghost Month?

Many people ask this common question, and the simple answer is that the spirits will visit their descendants because they have not received a proper send-off or been remembered well enough after their death.

Therefore, during the entire ghost month, ceremonies and rituals are performed to appease, feed, and entertain these spirits. They may be done at road shoulders, junctions or even around the home areas.

What CAN you DO to protect yourself during the Hungry Ghost Month?

The easiest thing one can do is cleanse their space during this period, and you can do it in the simplest way possible. A more urban approach is to use cleansing products like palo santo, white sage or frankincense resins.

Palo Santo is used by burning a raw stick or incense to cleanse a person’s object or space and remove any negativity or bad energies surrounding the area.

The same can be done using California White Sage or Frankincense Resins by burning them to smudge an area or person. While this may be a new approach, the purpose is still the same as performing a cleansing.

Our parents or grandparents used resins like Kemenyan to smoke or cleanse an area, house or space, and some people are still doing it. However, the smoke and smell may be a little more intense than the herbs or wood mentioned above.

Nowadays, there are many options available to perform cleansing, and products like palo santo and white sage have made their way into today’s lifestyle, especially in the city areas.

Apart from cleansing during the ghost month, these products are used to cleanse and purify a space or person from negativity or bad energies throughout the year.

Offerings for Hungry Ghost Month
Locals performing prayers and offerings during the ghost month. Photo by Malay Mail.

What NOT to do During the Ghost Month?

One should not be doing many things during the Hungry Ghost Month in Malaysia, and I will list them below. If I missed out on any, please let me know in the comment form below.

  1. Avoid telling ghost stories, as this is a no brainer
  2. Avoid moving into a new room, house or business during this month
  3. Avoid starting a new business during this period
  4. Avoid staying out late because the spirits are active at night and may follow you home
  5. Do not step or kick the offerings on the roadside as it will anger the spirits
  6. Do not get married during this month, and I guess you already know why
  7. Do not cover your forehead
  8. Do not make fun of offerings, alters or the deceased
  9. Avoid standing chopsticks upright in your bowl when eating, as this is considered an invitation to the ghosts
  10. Avoid sleeping next to a mirror facing you

All over Southeast Asia, there are many different types of pantang-larang being observed, and some of them include not opening a red umbrella or wearing red or black. But these vary among different countries, and it is up to your belief for which ones you observe.

Ghost Month Malaysia
Joss sticks burning at a local temple in Malaysia.

Conclusion

The Hungry Ghost Month in Malaysia takes place yearly during August and September, and this is when you will see people doing offerings by the roadside and even at temples.

In general, during this month, we should protect ourselves by avoiding all of the above mentioned and cleansing our space or ourselves. This is easily done by burning palo santo, white sage or even frankincense resin.

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