The origins of Hungry Ghost Festival are so interesting, you’ll be wowed

Most of us would be familiar with the significances of the Hungry Ghost Festival: during the seventh month, the gates of hell are open and hungry ghosts would be released from the netherworld to wander on our earth for food.

Depending on your religion, you’ll do different things to appease the wandering spirits.

But have you wondered about the origins of the festival? Or to be more specific, the legends of how it all started?

Well, there are two popular ones that we’ve found.

Mu Lian, a disciple of Buddha

So basically, Mu Lian is a disciple of Buddha. His vegetarian mother accidentally consumed meat and was condemned to hell for denying that act. So Mu Lian went to find her in the netherworld and saw her amongst hungry ghosts who were looking for food.

Mu Lian gave food to his mother but it was grabbed by the other ghosts. Eventually, Buddha helped him by teaching him how to make offerings of food and prayers, and from then on, Mu Lian’s mother was no longer a hungry ghost.

Legend from the Tang Dynasty

So, during this time, there was a famous fortune teller called Li Liang Feng who has never got his predictions wrong. The Dragon King of the Eastern Seas was angry at his claim and tried to discredit him, but was sentenced to death instead due to some plot twist.

In order to save his life, he went to Emperor Tang Taizong for help, but it failed and the Dragon King haunted the Emperor in his dreams.

To appease the Dragon King, the Emperor ordered all Buddhist and Taoists priests in his city to do offerings for the Dragon King, and the rest is history.

Wait…why isn’t there any mention of hungry ghosts roaming earth?

Despite what our grandparents have told us, it seems like the story of hungry ghosts roaming our world isn’t part of the origins of the festival.

But maybe as time goes by, different accounts of the origin changed, but one thing remain constant: people are still making offerings.

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This article was first published on on 26 August 2015 and revised on 27 August 2017.

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