Every year on the 7th month, also known as the month of the Hungry Ghost, devotees of Heng Kang Tian, 玄江殿, (Xuan Jiang Dian) come together to organize a salvation ritual for wandering spirits. The event is communal and enlists devotees and volunteers of all ages.
The strong males are required to prepare the prayer area, shifting and lifting prayer items and offerings while the ladies prepare food and fold joss papers into ingots.
The main prayer area had bags of food items sponsored by devotees. These food items were packed into reusable environmental friendly shopping bags. Around the prayer area, facilities were set up for the wandering spirits; tables of food, gambling sets, children’s toys and toilet facilities.
The salvation ritual began when the medium of Heng Kang Tian goes into a trance and leads devotees to the prayer area where offerings and prayers were made for the wandering spirits. After the prayers were made, devotees paid their respects and the offerings were shifted for the final ritual to burn the offerings.
The bags of food item were taken away by devotees who sponsor them. Another batch of the same food items were not taken by devotees. Instead, these were sponsored by devotees of Heng Kang Tian for distribution to the needy families.
The immediate association of the Hungry Ghost Festival is of course the hungry ghost with many tales of spooky sightings, the sensational encounters, and the does and don’ts. Yet, there is another side of the Hungy Ghost Festival that is less seldom discussed or talked about.
As the Heng Kang Tian’s event demonstrates, Hungry Ghost prayers reflect the sense of compassion for wandering spirits. The devotees spent time and money to organize the prayer session in order to do what they can for the wandering spirits. If this represents compassion towards beings in another realm, Heng Kang Tian’ devotees have also demonstrated another social dimension of the prayer – caring for less fortunate in their society. And that is why devotees either sponsor an additional bag of food or gave theirs for distribution to the needy. Maybe it is also worth highlighting their choice of bags; a reusable shopping bag to help save the environment.
Event date: 6 September 2009
18th day of the 7th month, year of the Ox.