Ullambana (Hungry Ghosts Festival; All Souls' Feast)

July-August; full moon or 15th day of seventh lunar month
A Buddhist and Taoist festival probably dating back to the sixth century and Confucius, Ullambana is observed in China as well as throughout the rest of eastern Asia. A legend attaches to this feast's origins: a Buddhist monk named Moggallana sought to save his mother from hell, where she went after her death because of her greed. The Buddha proposed that Moggallana and his fellow monks offer money, apparel, and food on behalf of all the souls he would encounter there. Moggallana did as the Buddha suggested and so rescued his mother. Because it illustrated the Chinese virtue of honoring one's parents, Ullambana became the best-loved Buddhist festival in China, and from there it spread to Japan, Korea, and other east Asian countries.
It is believed that during this month the souls of the dead are released from purgatory to roam the earth. In Taiwan the day is called "opening of the gates of Hell." This makes it a dangerous time to travel, get married, or move to a new house.
Unhappy and hungry spirits—those who died without descendants to look after them or who had no proper funeral (because they were killed in a plane crash, for example)—may cause trouble and therefore must be placated with offerings. So people burn paper replicas of material possessions like automobiles, furniture, clothing, and paper money ("ghost money") believing that this frees these things for the spirits' use. Joss sticks are burned, and offerings of food are placed on tables outside people's homes. Prayers are said at all Chinese temples and at Chinese shops and homes, and wayang (Chinese street opera) and puppet shows are performed on open-air stages.
Families in Vietnam remember the souls of the dead by visiting their graves. It is known as Yue Lan, Vu Lan Day, Day of the Dead, and Trung Nguyen . The festival, the second most important of the year after Tet, is observed throughout the country in Buddhist temples and homes and offices. To remember the dead, families perform the dan chay, an offering of incense at graves. An altar at home is prepared with two levels—one for Buddha with offerings of incense, fruit, and rice, and one for departed relatives with rice soup, fruit, and meat. It is considered best if offerings include the tan sinh, three kinds of creatures—fish, meat, and shrimp—and the ngu qua, five kinds of fruit. Money and clothes made of votive papers are also burned at this time.
Consulate General of Vietnam
1700 California St., Ste. 430
San Francisco, CA 94109
415-922-1707; fax: 415-922-1848
Taiwan Government Information Office
4201 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
202-895-1850; fax: 202-362-6144
Hong Kong Tourism Board
115 E. 54th St. 2/F
New York, NY 10022
212-421-3382; fax: 212-421-8428
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
El Festival Ullambana de Origen Chaozhou, Danza de Dragones Igneos de Tai Hang, Festival del Bote de Dragon en el Dia 5 del Quinto Mes Lunar de Tai O, Rituales de Vino Taiping de Cheung Chau y Te Frio, cuatro items peculiares de Hong Kong, han sido incluidos en la Lista de Patrimonio Intangible a Nivel Nacional, de tercera serie.
His short fiction collections Exiles from Time (1998), Squid-Eye (1999), and Ullambana (2002) were un-agented and published by the very small Anoai Press.