Monday, Aug 29, 2011 10:17 AM
Posted By Lester V Ledesma
Yesterday was the last night of the Hungry Ghosts month, a time when spirits from hell are said to be free to roam the earth. To commemorate the event, Singapore's local Chinese lit huge bonfires fueled by countless wads of "hell money" - a form of currency used by "the others" in their fiery home.
Close to midnight, I witnessed the closing of the gates of hell.
A Singaporean lights incense sticks from a row of candles lining a walkway, in preparation for a ritual that would see the spirits off. These are said to purify the air and guide the ghosts back to their home, "down below". While I am taking photos, an old lady approaches me to say that this area is full of spirits.
"If you notice anything unusual, just keep quiet and don't tell anybody about it", she says. "and if you hear strange voices calling your name, DO NOT look around"
From a nearby temple, a relic of the past appears. The old man is a tang ki - a spirit medium, somebody who lends his body to spirits wishing to communicate with the material world. On this night, however, he is hosting the god of hell himself. The man is in a trance, yet he walks with a swagger befitting the ruler of the dead. And he speaks in an ancient form of Hokkien.
Locals toss wads of "hell money" into a huge pile. This will all be burned at midnight to ensure that the spirits are well-stocked in the underworld.
"They eat and buy things like we do", the lady tells me, "If they have enough money down there, they won't have to come up here looking for things. And they'll will repay our kindness with good luck"
With a cigar in his hand and constant helpings of whiskey, the tang ki (aka, "the Hell God") presides over the rituals. It is almost midnight, but he decides to stay on earth a bit longer.
"Sing for me", he tells everyone. The locals oblige, of course, singing a hymn about the twelve levels of hell.
Finally the Hell God decides it is time to go. He pours whiskey onto the ground and tosses incense into the air. The month of the Hungry Ghosts is coming to an end.
Twenty minutes past midnight, the hell money is set aflame; everyone crowds around to toss their own contributions to the pile.
As the fire intensifies, strips of flaming notes go flying into the air. Their ashes will fall back to earth, but the money itself will have gone elsewhere.
If hell had a Western Union this would be it, I chuckle to myself. But to devout Taoists, this is currency well-spent. The ghosts are satisfied, and the gates of hell are now closed. Life goes on for the living.
Did I see anything strange? I am not telling :)
Categories: Singapore, arts, culture, travel, Asia, Portrait, Festival, religion, Lester, Ledesma, city, night