Ullambana, popularly known as the Ghost Festival, is celebrated by Buddhists in various countries like China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, India and others. As per the Chinese Mahayana tradition, the date of the festival falls on the 15th of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. It is commemorated in honor of one of the Buddha’s disciples, Maudgalyayana who provided salvation to his mother through certain religious merits. Ullambana is a Sanskrit term, which means ‘hanging upside down’. Also, the Pali equivalent of the word means ‘merciful disposition’. Hence, the festival conveys everyone to be sympathetic towards the departed souls. Furthermore, the festival is celebrated with variations in different countries. Browse through the lines below to find out the different traditions followed around the world.
Ghost Festival Celebrations Around The World
Malaysia celebrates Ullambana in its own unique fashion that is different from the festival celebrated in other countries. The festival is distinguished by the ‘concert-like’ live performances held throughout Malaysia. Known as ‘Koh-tai’ in Hokkien, the live show is marked by performances by a group of singers, dancers and entertainers on a stage that is set within the residential district. The residents of the residential districts fund the entire performance and the celebrations.
Ullambana is known as Urabon-e, shorter Obon, or simply Bon in Japanese. Existing for over 500 years now, the festival is observed on different dates in different regions. While the eastern part of Japan (Kanto) celebrates Obon from July 13 to 16, the western part (Kansai) celebrates in August. Celebrated across three days, the first day welcomes the festival (Welcoming Obon) while the last day bids adieu to it (Farewell Obon). Although the festival was initially observed to present gifts to the ancestral spirits, it has now become an annual event for presenting gifts to superiors and acquaintances.
People gather in their home towns from the big cities to honor their ancestors. The celebration has become more of a family reunion holiday. They visit their ancestors’ graves and clean them. While in the temples and homes, they offer food to the wandering spirits. Homes are decorated with paper lanterns, while they are also placed on the cemeteries. In some parts of Japan, one can also witness lanterns with candles floating down the rivers or sea water, thereby illuminating the path for the spirits. This particular ceremony is known as Toro-nagashi, which also concludes the Ullambana festival.
Known as Tet Trung Nguyen in Vietnamese, the Ullambana festival coincides with Vu Lan, the Vietnamese transliteration for Ullambana. The people of Vietnam look upon this festival as releasing the departed souls from hell. The homeless people are fed and pacified with various food offerings. Birds and fish are also released as part of earning merits for the living. Vu Lan is also considered as Mother’s Day in Vietnam in the present times. People, whose mothers are alive, thank them and offer prayers for their long and healthy life. They also attend services to pray for the deceased mothers.