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Hungry Ghost Festival & Yulan Festival | 中元節和盂蘭盆節

 

The 15th of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox, it is a day to celebrate good harvest and to thank the Earth. In Eastern traditions, civilians and the royals will pray to the gods and ancestors with fresh crops to pay respect to the deceased. Ancestral worship is an important aspect in Eastern religions, therefore this custom passed from generation to generation for thousands of years. Ancestral worship has since combined with shamanism, Taoism and Buddhism and became the Hungry Ghost Festival and Yulan Festival of the modern days. 

農曆七月十五日是立秋後第一個滿月,是初秋慶祝豐收和酬謝大地的日子,世界各地的人們都會祭祀田地的神明和感謝大地。東方的民間和皇室也會以新榖祭祀祖廟,表達對祖先的敬意。由於祖先崇拜在東方信仰中相當重要,所以這個習俗得以存活數千年,後來更結合了民間習俗、巫覡宗教、道教以及佛教信仰,成為了中元節和盂蘭盆節。

 

 

Buddhist monks used to practice together in rainy seasons, which is called Vassa or the rains retreat - a three month annual retreat that usually lasts from the fourth to the seventh lunar month. Pavarana is the last day of the Vassa, which ends on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, also called the day of Ullambana - Buddhists will make offerings of the triple gem (buddha, dharma and sangha) to transfer merits to the pretas to help them reborn and release from sufferings, especially to our parents and ancestors.

古時,佛教僧侶每逢雨季時都會集合一起修行,由農曆四月十五至七月十五,稱為結夏安居。而經過三個月的精進修行後,佛陀為僧侶的修行成果感到歡喜和欣慰,所以七月十五日這天稱為佛歡喜日。佛教徒會在這天以盂蘭盆供奉佛、法、僧三寶,濟度六道苦難眾生,以功德回向累世父母,報答父母養育之恩,傳揚孝親的美德,稱為盂蘭盆法會。

 

 

 

The Chungyuan (Ghost) Festival is also part of the Taoist tradition, it is the date when the god of Earth gives absolution for the sins of the dead. On this day the gates of the underworld are opened and the souls of the dead wander among living - a day that represents Light is ending and Darkness takes over and enter the dark half of the year. Taoist practitioners will give offerings of food and fruits and make prayers and chantings of sutras to help the deceased to crossover to the other side.

由於這天是全年陰陽交匯的轉捩點,過了這天便會由陽轉為陰,在道教是中元二品地官赦罪清虛大帝寶誕,信徒會祭祖和祈求地官大帝赦免祖先亡魂至一切亡魂之罪,因此,在這一天,餓鬼囚徒和十方大聖都會齊集起來,道士則會設壇供奉花果、頌經做法事,祈望地官赦罪。

 

 

 

With folk traditions, Taoist and Buddhist practices, there will be similar kinds of rituals and offerings on the 15th of the seventh lunar month every year to honour the dearly departed. In modern days, there are festive celebrations such as theatrical performances other than the long held folk tradition of offering food and drinks to wandering spirits on Ullabana to keep the living safe and peaceful, in Chinese societies there are even religious operas performed. The festive activities and traditions also have their social function of uniting ethnic groups and communities.

因此,不論民間、道教或佛教,在每逢農曆七月十五,都會進行佈施和普渡眾生的儀式。直至今天,民間舉辦的盂蘭盆會或中元普渡除了原來的儀式意義之外,還增添了娛樂成份,變成廟會形式的祭典,有歌舞、戲劇等娛樂活動。例如華人的盂蘭盆會常有神功戲演出。其實除了祭祀、娛樂外,一些盂蘭盆會還有團結地區、族群的社會功能。

 

 

 

In Canton area, including Hong Kong, we call this day the Yulan Festival, and it’s usually held on the 14th of the seventh lunar month. Some see it as the fearful Ghost Festival which lasts the whole month, every district will have it’s Ullambana celebrations - people will honour their ancestors and the deceased by burning paper money and making food and drinks offerings on the street. However, there are also many taboos such as don’t walk by the wall, don’t move house or marry in the month, and don’t leave your clothes drying outside until midnight. Other taboos like do not hang around at night do not have any legit reason from a traditional perspective, as most ritual performances and celebrations take part in the evening, there are somehow contradictions with the folk traditions and taboos. 

These kind of commemorative traditions passed down from generations has always taught us to be thankful and respect all spirits and energies around us and within the universe, the difference between the living and the dead are not much and the line is thin - we are in contact with them on a daily basis. No matter our religion or beliefs, we should always pay respect and be kind to each other.

在廣東和香港稱這節日為盂蘭節,通常會在七月十四過節,有些人會視為陰森恐怖的鬼節,各區會舉辦盂蘭勝會或中元建醮,人們會祭祖和燒街衣,同時也流傳不少禁忌,例如不要貼牆走、不要在七月搬家或結婚、晾衣服不能留到半夜等等,但部份禁忌如晚上不要外出等並沒有傳統文化基礎,而不少祭祀和慶祝活動都是晚上進行,所以這些民間禁忌其實與傳統習俗存在著矛盾。

古人流傳下來的祭祀文化,一直教導人們如何虔誠感恩,生死是無常的,無論有沒有宗教信仰,都應該要尊重這個宇宙中所有的生靈。

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