Ullambana festival is celebrated with great popularity and magnificence in different countries, such as China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and others. The Buddhists believe that the gates of the hell are opened on this day and the dead pay a visit to the living. The word Ullambana can be translated into ‘deliverance from suffering’ which means ‘seeking salvation for the anguished souls’. The origin of the festival dates back to the story of Maudgalyayana saving his mother from starvation and achieving salvation for her. It is observed on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month of the Buddhist calendar. The festival is marked with various rituals and customs. Browse through the following lines to know about the traditions and rituals followed while celebrating the Ullambana festival.
Traditions And Rituals Of Ullambana
The Ullambana festival falls on a full moon, which signifies the new season, the fall harvest, the rebirth of ancestors and the assembly of the local community. The Buddhists believe that the gates of the hell are opened and the ghosts come down to earth in search of food and entertainment. They are supposedly the ancestors of the living who have been forgotten to be paid a tribute after they died. Hence, on this day, the family members offer prayers, food and drinks to their deceased relatives. They also burn joss paper to relieve them and provide comfort in the afterlife. Other things, such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions, are burned to please the ghosts.
Other unknown wandering ghosts are also paid a tribute so that they do not enter the homes and lives, thereby bringing misfortune and bad luck. The 14th day of the 7th month is celebrated on a grand scale. A large feast is organized for the ghosts, wherein everyone brings in food and arranges it on a table for the ghosts to dig on. Many Buddhists and Taoists hold ceremonies either in the afternoon or at night to relieve the ghosts. Special altars are made for the ghosts where priests and monks perform rituals, such as throwing rice and other small food items in the air, to ward off ghosts. The evenings are marked by burning of incense in front of the homes.
The Chinese consider incense for prosperity. Hence, it is popularly burnt there. Quite a few shops are closed on Ullambana to give way for the ghosts. An altar of incense is placed in the middle of each street along with fresh fruits and sacrifices for the ghosts to feast on. These days, some East Asian countries organize live performances. While everyone attends these shows, the first few rows are always kept vacant for the ghosts to come and seat themselves. To attract and please the ghosts, the shows are usually organized in the night with sound at high volumes. Better known as ‘Merry-making’, these shows include Chinese opera, dramas and even burlesque shows.
Back home, while at the table, empty seats are placed for each of the deceased member assuming that they are still alive. Luxurious and delicious meals are served to them as well. Fourteen days after the festival of Ullambana, people flow special lanterns on water to guide the ghosts and spirits back to their place in hell. These lanterns are created by making a paper boat on which a lotus flower-shaped lantern sits still. They are set outside every household indicating that the ghosts should now return back to their underworld, the hell. When the lanterns go off, the people believe that the ghosts have found their way back to the hell.