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Festival of the Hungry Ghost
From the last day of the sixth moon to the last night of the seventh, the gates of hell open up and allow the ghosts of the deceased to roam the earth.
The Chinese celebrate two festivals of the dead: The first takes place in the spring and is called Ching Ming - a day for reflection and rememberance of the recent and still-remembered but ancestrally departed. The second - and darker of the two festivals - is called Da Jui by the Chinese and Urabon or Obon by the Japanese.
The story begins with Moggallana - a disciple of Sakyamuni - who through his supernatural powers was able to look into Hades where he discovered his mother writhing in eternal agony. She had become a Hungry Ghost and cast into hell - forever craving food but unable to consume it.
Moggallana descended into Hell and upon seeing his mother in pain, he was overcome with pity. His attempts to feed her were vain for no sooner the food touched her mouth, it would erupt into flames and turn to smoldering ashes.
During this seventh month the ghosts of the dead are released from hell and allowed to walk among the living. Most are benign but others are malicious and seek to harm the living. These are the vengeful ghosts of people who have no living relatives to offer food or pray on their behalf; ghosts of people who die tragically in car accidents, by drowning or suicide. Their souls unfulfilled, they seek others to take their place in Hell. People try to be more cautious during this month, especially on the 15th day when it's advisable to stay indoors. Especially dangerous are riverbanks where a malevolent spirit might easily snatch the soul of an unwary passerby.
To placate these angry spirits, offerings of fruit, moon-cakes and joss sticks (incense) are made outside the house. Where the water meets land, paper lanterns are lit and set adrift to lead the evil ghosts to think those the hearths houses and away from homes and people. Fake money called "Hell Money" is burnt to 'buy' off the ghost's sympathy. Paper houses, cars, planes and other effigies are burned on behalf of those departed. Large feasts are prepared at temples and operas play while the spirits 'dine' on their offerings.
On the last day of the 7th month, a Taoist priest recites the liturgy while holding a "Seven Star Sword" to let the ghosts know that it's time to return to the underworld. When the gates of hell are closed, the priest cups his ears to avoid the deafening lamenting cries of the ghosts returning to the darkness.
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