Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Ghost Festival

It is nearing the end of the ghost month by which the portals of Hades will be shut once again. It is believed that the doors of Hell are flung open on the first day of the seventh lunar month to allow the ghosts and spirits of the nether world into the world of the living for a month of feasting. This earthly party comes to an end on the 30th day of the month.

For the living, it is a month of praying to their ancestors and the departed and offering hell money, clothes and food and other necessities to them.
On every major road, housing estates and villages with predominant Chinese population in Batu Pahat, temporary tents are erected for the festival. Items ranging from liquor, rice, cooking oil and even bicycles, some of which are donated, are auctioned off to raise money to cover expanses as well as make donations to the needy.
In wealthier localities, the offerings are more elaborate and expensive. One locality is the Wawasan Light Industrial Park about 11 kilometres from Batu Pahat along Jalan Tanjong Laboh where many small and medium industries are found.
The festivity started a day earlier with preparations and a performance at night by a performing troupe contracted from Malacca at a cost of RM 5,000 for the night. There were singing and dancing to the beat of techno music and hip-hop. The spirits have, it seems, kept up with the tempo of the time. Burlesque sketches replete with sexual innuendoes were included to titillate the primarily male audience who also comprised surprisingly Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Myanmar and Nepalese workers who were required to line up under the watchful eyes of Rela members (voluntary security personnel body set up by the government to help police in the matters of traffic control and law and order).

Items to be auctioned off the next night

Performer enthralling the crowd with her song to techno music

Another performer doing her routine

Crowd of various nationalities watching the performance

Rela members controlling the crowd

On the second night, the 120 tables were almost full by 8.00pm. The auction of items, almost all donated, was fast and furious as guests ate and drank their fill. The flow of alcohol no doubt fuelled the one-up man-ship as each tried to outbid the other. The gold painted barrel which was carried from table to table to collect donations, was later brought up to the stage with further donations ranging from one hundred to 800 ringgit from committee members to increase the value of the barrel. It was auctioned off for RM 25,000, the single most costly item of that night.
The money will be used to defray the expanses as well as to cover donations to two beneficiaries, a dialysis machine costing RM 44,000 to a nonprofit dialysis centre and a donation of RM 6,000 to the Spastic Children Centre in Batu Pahat.

Guests slowly arriving for the dinner

Some of the guests

Guests drinking even before the start of the dinner

A sacrificial offering

Another sacrificial offering

"Tai Si Yeh", the guardian of Hell

The forbidding demeanour of "Tai Si Yeh"

A lady praying to "Tai Si Yeh" and the wandering spirits

Each seat is allocated to the departed

A feast for the departed

A donation of RM 44,000 for a dialysis centre in Batu Pahat

The auction has begun

Some men praying

Food for the guests

Fish with tom yam sauce

At the end of the night, the spirits and ghosts must have been pleased with the elaborate preparations and food and drinks that were provided so generously. They should go back to Hades fully content with the knowledge that next year’s celebration in Batu Pahat would be just as grand if not grander than this year’s.

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