Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia

  • UPDATED Sep 21, 2018
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Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia

Malaysia is a land of varied cultures and religions. There are many festivals celebrated all throughout the year by the locals of Malaysia. One of the widely celebrated festivals is the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia. The Buddhists and the Taoists celebrate this festival. The festival holds great historical importance in the lives of the Chinese people and hence is celebrated on a large scale. If you wish to visit Malaysia during the Hungry Ghost Festival and are curious to know about everything related to it, we are here to help. In this article, you will find all that you need to know before visiting the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia. So, pack your bags and head to Malaysia and have a great experience participating in the Hungry Ghost Festival activities.

Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia in a Nutshell

Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia is one of the most prominent Taoist and Buddhist festivals that is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. In the Chinese culture, the 7th month of the lunar calendar is regarded as the Ghost month, and people believe that the ghosts and spirits from the lower realm come to earth. In Buddhism, it is believed that the world consists of 6 realms and the realm named Preta has unstable dwellers. These are always hungry and do not have the means to eat or drink. The Hungry Ghosts living in Preta are the dead people who have been neglected by their family or who have not been sent away with proper rituals. So, during the hungry ghost festival all the people of the Buddhist and Taoist believes feed them and offer prayers for them so that their souls can rest in peace.

History of the Hungry Ghost Festival

The tradition of offering sacrifices to the forefathers have been a part of the Chinese tradition forever. The Buddhists and Taoists believe that the ancestors look upon them from the other realms and help them in leading their lives. However, the history remains uncertain. There are many stories that go around about the festival, and they differ according to each region. One of the Taoist believes is that on the first day of the seventh month, the gates of hell are opened, and the ghosts come out in search of food and also to take revenge on the people who have done them bad. Another story says that the king of hell King Yama opens the gates of hell and sends some ghosts to enjoy the sacrifices made by the people on the earth. The gates get closed on the last day of the month, and all the ghosts return to their respective worlds and do not come back for another year. In the Chinese tradition, it is said that the gates of heaven also open during this time and hence it is considered a great time to worship their ancestors.

Events Taking Place at the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia

A lot of events and practices take place during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia. The people of the Chinese community come together to carry on these traditions that have been going on for years and hold a big part of their history and culture. These are some of the common traditions that you will see during the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia:

Puppet Shows and Other Entertainment Programs

It is believed that the ghosts roam free during this time of the year and they need to be entertained. Hence, the local people organize puppet shows and musical performances in order to entertain the ghosts as well as the people. These performances are funded by the locals themselves, and stages are created for the artists to perform. The front row in all these performances is always kept empty for the spirits to sit and watch the entertainment shows. If a person accidentally sits on the seats reserved for the spirits, bad things have said to happen to them. The puppet shows were major traditions in the past, however, now more of other entertainment programs take place.

Burning Hell Money

Another common tradition of the Hungry Ghost Festival is burning hell money. It is said that the worldly possessions cannot reach the netherworld directly. So, people believe that if they burn money in the form of paper and houses, boats, cars and much more made of paper, they will be sending all these things to their deceased ancestors. This is a way for the locals to show their affection and love for them. These are the gifts that are sent to the ancestors. Hence the paper money and other paper objects are burnt so that they reach the ancestors in other realms.

Food Offerings to The Dead

Another common practice is the food offerings. As the name suggests, these ghosts are usually very hungry at the place they live. So, once in a year when they get a chance to escape it and come back to the real world, they look for food. The locals provide them food to avoid any bad omen and also to show their respect and honor for them. Food offerings are made at various places such as temples and much more.

Tai Su Yeah Send-Off

On the last day of the festival, Tai Su Yeah in the form of effigies made of paper are sent back to hell after burning them. Thos is the last day of the festival, and after this, the Chinese people resume their normal lives as it was the rest of the year with the belief that their ancestors are happy with them and the spirits will cause no trouble for them anymore.

What’s on the Menu?

Well, there is not much on the menu for you on this Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia, but there is a lot of the spirits of the deceased. People offer special foods from fruits to roasted chicken dishes and much more. A special feast organized for the dead and these offerings are made at different places such as temples and community centers. People contribute to the offerings depending on their capacity. In the end, all the offerings are distributed to the needy people who do not have enough food to feed themselves. Hence this is one great way to do some charity and also to follow a tradition.


Here are a few facts that you might not know about the Hungry Ghost Festival in Malaysia. Read them to know more about this fascinating Chinese tradition.

The Joss Sticks that are lit during the Hungry Ghost Festival is actually a messaging system to the deceased. This way of the humans of telling the spirits that they are respected remembered and blessed. 

Two different religious believes associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival namely Taoism and Buddhism. Taoism has a different way of celebrating the Hungry Ghost festival, and in their beliefs, an excess of Joss sticks is prohibited.

The paper offerings originated in the Ming Dynasty when the king traveled the netherworld to see his deceased mother. While reaching there, he found her in torn clothes and without any luxury. He made up his mind to send her some clothes, gold and make her well to do. However, the guardians of the Netherworld informed him that he could not carry anything from the earth to his mother. If he wanted to give her something, he could just burn it in the form of thin paper, and it will reach her. Ever since then people burn paper offerings for their ancestors during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The taboos associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival are not accepted in Taoism, and people of the Taoist community carry on with their normal lives even during the festival.

The festival has become more famous in today’s times than it was in the past. People have started celebrating it in various parts of the world.

The offerings that are gathered are later given out to the old age homes or orphanage for the needy people to feast on. Many charities raise money during the festival and help the needy all around the world.

To Sum Up

The Hungry Ghost Festival is a fascinating festival taking place in Malaysia. The Chinese people spend it offering homage to the deceased, and you can actually feel the presence of the lost souls in Malaysia during this time of the year. If you want to see how big a belief can get, visiting Malaysia during the Hungry Ghost Festival is necessary. However, make sure you ask the locals about the things that you are not supposed to do during the festivals that might end up hurting the sentiments of the people and also angering the ghosts. In many occasions, people have fallen extremely ill after doing something unknowingly to anger the spirit. Apart from these precautions, enjoy your time taking in the cultural practices of the country and join the people in paying tribute to the ancestors who were once a blessing on the earth and have now been gracing the kingdom of heavens.