Hungry Ghost Festival under the new normal

Devotees pray to the guardian of the underworld, Tai Su Yeah.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Yee Lan Festival Association of Bangsar has found a way of celebrating this year’s Hungry Ghost Festival that is in keeping with the new normal while ensuring that the tradition is kept alive.

There are offerings of food for special guests from the underworld, but instead of burning large effigies and celebrating with outdoor banquets and stage performances, the accent is on charity and prayers for a better tomorrow.

The association, which is 40 years old, began celebrating this year’s festival yesterday and will continue with scaled down ceremonies until tomorrow.

Association member Loh Boon Chuan told FMT food offerings to the spirits would be donated to the poor and orphaned.

Volunteers help set up the prayer space.

In doing so, he added, his organisation would be staying true to its goal of assisting communities around Bangsar.

“We expect there to be many offerings after the festival. So we will do some charity work and offer them to the orphanages and the needy.”

A committee member prepares offerings to the spirits.

But he said the theme for this year’s festival “is prayers for Covid-19 to go away, for a healthy and peaceful life, and for things to go back to normal”.

The festival is celebrated in the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, with devotees praying for good luck and paying tribute to the guardian of the underworld, Tai Su Yeah, as he opens the gates of the underworld to allow spirits to roam free in the world of the living throughout the month.

Entry and exit signs set up for visitors of a temple.

Under normal circumstances, it takes two to three months to prepare for the festival, from obtaining the necessary permits to hiring entertainers for the grand festival and the final staging of performances.

However, since visitor numbers were expected to be greatly reduced this year, the time for preparation was reduced to just a few days.

Members of the Persatuan Perayaan Yee Lan Bangsar.

A monk has been invited to conduct the prayers and devotees are still allowed to offer food or burn incense or joss paper.

“We are observing all the SOPs,” Loh said. “Devotees won’t be able to enter the temple, but they are allowed to pray in the open public space.”

Offerings for special guests from the underworld.
A devotee burns joss sticks for prayers during the Hungry Ghost Festival.