Hungry Ghost Festivals (Phor Thor)
The Valley Of The Dead

Hungry Ghost Festivals falls on the 15th day of August every year (Equivalent to seventh moon in the Chinese calendar).

It was during this time that Chinese believe that the gates of Hell are opened and the spirit of the dead being let loose to wander among the living.

The celebration of Hungry Ghost Festivals which last for about a month provides a link between the living and the dead, earth and heaven as well as body and soul.

For Buddhist in Penang, this festival carries special meaning and is considered one of
the most important festivals for the community. The origins of the festivals can be traced back to a story originally from India.


Chinese legend states that long long time ago, there is a wealthy merchant named mu-lien who after attaining enlightenment wanted to search for his dead parents. When he found them, his father is in heaven but his mother is a hungry ghost who lives in hell.

The story goes that his mother was a wicked woman. She often turned away beggars who came to her door asking for food. She liked to jeer at the poor people and their dirty clothes; in essence, the only person she cared about was herself. When mu-lien wanted to become a monk, she scowled at him for being such a useless son as all she cares is only wealth and materialistic things. She also dislikes monks and play tricks at them. When mu-lien mother died, she was immediately punished and sends to hell.

In order to bring her mother back to heaven, mu-lien ask her to be kind to any Buddhist monk and eliminate greed from her mind altogether. Unfortunately, she can't do it.

Mu-lien having no choice, tries to rescues his mother from hell by battling various demons and praying to Buddha's. As mu-lien is a very kind soul, Buddha heard his prayers one day and offers him a deal. Buddha decreed that once a year, the gates of hell is opened so that the lost souls will be able to roam the earth and be fed. Monks will then be able to pray and make sacrifices on behalf of dead spirit or hungry ghost. This is why every year on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar; the Chinese celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festivals.



Chinese in Penang today believe that the Hungry Ghost must be appeased in order to get good fortune and better luck in their lives. That is why, every year Hungry Ghost Festivals was organized so that food and entertainment can be provided for the wandering spirit. Makeshift altars and stages was set-up along the road of Georgetown to provide entertainment such as puppet shows and traditional street operas.

Now a days, the traditional operas have been replace by singers dress in sexy outfit, sang and dance pop music to appease the spirit. When you do plan to see one of the show, don't be surprise to see that why the front row is being left vacant. It is being reserved for the spirit!

Various foods offering such as chicken, vegetables, fruits, bean curd, white rice, bowls of noodles, sweetmeats, cakes and other treats are placed at street corners and along roadsides to appease the spirits. The Chinese leave all these offerings outside the gates of houses to prevent the hungry ghosts from entering their homes and creating trouble or bringing bad luck. Lanterns are lit up to help guide the ghosts to the feasts area set out for them.

Shrines are filled with offerings to the dead as many people come to pray for their dead relative. Hell money is burned to provide them with means to purchase comforts. The Chinese also burn paper houses, Hell passports and Hell airline tickets, paper television sets, paper cars such as BMW’s and even paper men and women for those who haven't married for the dead. Some families believe that the offerings can reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in the afterlife.

If you have children or toddler, try to keep them inside the house, especially at night during Hungry Ghost Month.  This is because the "Hungry Ghosts" could lure them to the valley of the dead. Having a wedding or moving house during this period is considered bad luck. Swimming at the beach is also discouraged because many tragedies have taken place in the sea, as evil ghosts may be eager to take away more lives!

The 30th day of the seventh moon is the last day of the Hungry Ghost Festivals. At midnight, the ghosts return to Hell and the gates are shut after them. Paper offerings and some other goods are burnt in a giant bonfire as a final present to the spirit.

Courtesy of www.penang tourism.com.my © All rights reserved