When: August 3-31, 2016
Where: Various locations throughout Penang – (refer to schedule and location list below)
When the clock strikes midnight on the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the gates of the afterlife crack open to unleash ghosts unto the land of the living. For a period of one month every year, the Hungry Ghost Festival takes over Penang – in 2016, it’s happening August 3-31. During this festival, the Chinese believe that the souls of their deceased ancestors return to earth in search of food, entertainment and some much-needed catch-up time with their living relatives. And there’s a lot to see and experience, even if you’re not Chinese or have grandpa’s soul hanging out with you.
Apparently the afterlife can get a bit boring, so Chinese communities put on elaborate operas, musical performances and puppet shows to entertain visiting spirits. Don’t be freaked out by the word “opera” – this is quite different than a western dramatic work, and there’s (usually) no droning or screeching involved. Actors dress up in ornate costumes and have their faces painted to fearsome perfection, and tell traditional stories through singing, wild expressions and theatrical movements.
The puppet shows are also a sight to behold, especially since they’re a unique part of Penang’s cultural heritage. It’s an opera where the actors are all puppets and it’s meant to be entertainment for the gods. It’s a dying art form that may one day depart with the spirits when they return to the afterlife, so catch it while you can.
On the last day of the festival, hit the streets – especially near Chinese temples. You’ll see huge bonfires with people stoking the flames with symbolic paper money, gifts and even paper mahjong sets. As the spirits make their way back to the other side, the offerings are sent up to the heavens for them on the back of the smoke.
The living (of all faiths) are welcome to experience the grandeur of these events, so be sure to check them out this year.