IN Chinese culture, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is regarded as the Hungry Ghost Festival, when the gates of hell open and the spirits roam the earth.
This year, the festival is from July 27 to Aug 24. Joss paper and incense are widely burned, for they are believed to have value in the afterlife, similar to that in the material world.
Offerings of food are also made to appease the spirits and ward off bad luck.
But this tradition and belief is not unique to the Chinese.
The Hindus of Kerala also observe similar, but less known, traditions.
It is around this time of the year that the Malayalam month of Karkidakam starts. Karkidakam, Sanskrit for the sun sign Cancer, is the last month of the solar calendar used by the Malayalees.
The ritual, called Karkidaka Vavu Bali or Vavubali Tharpanam is an important ritual observed by the Hindus in Kerala on the new-moon day in Karkidakam.
General secretary for Singapore Malayalee Hindu Samajam (SMHS) Harish O. Velayudhan said: "As the religious teacher Swami Udit Chaitanya explained, darbha (a type of long grass), pavithram (ring made of darbha grass), ellu (sesame), cheroola (a special herb), cooked rice, water and banana leaves are the important accompaniments needed for performing the bali ritual.
"The Vavu Bali is performed under the guidance of an elderly person or priest, with all the items on the banana leaf. A lot of flexibility is shown in the ritual and the items needed. Finally, the person who is offering the bali will take a dip in the river or sea, immersing the offering in the water."
Treasurer of SMHS Sujatha Nair explained why this day is the most significant for this ritual: "It is believed that the souls of deceased ancestors are permitted to visit their living relatives during this month. "Hence, the Vavu Bali offered on this day is believed to help departed souls attain 'moksha' or transcendence."
Adding to that, Mr Velayudhan said: "It is also in this month that a majority of people pass on due to natural causes. The changes in the moon phase during this time can have adverse effects on one's health. They are prone to falling ill and those suffering from certain illnesses, like asthma, might get worse, thus leading to death.
"Swami Udit Chaitanya also teaches that it is our duty to pay homage to our forefathers for their sacrifices to give us life and living. In doing so, we will in turn be revered and respected."
A special prayer session was organised by the Malayalee community at the Sri Sivan Temple on July 26, to perform the Vavu Bali.
Said Mrs Nair: "Hindus of the other Indian communities also perform special prayers on this day, but their customs differ slightly from the Malayalees.
"For us, the whole month is significant in that we read the holy Hindu scripture Ramayana every day for the whole month. It is believed that Saint Valmiki wrote the Ramayana in Karkidakam. Some important parts of the epic also took place during this month.
"That's why we read the Ramayana during this month, and not other holy Hindu scriptures like the Baghavad Gita or Mahabharatha. This is also why Malayalees call this month the Ramayana month."
The Malayalee community also organises Ramayana reading sessions at different temples throughout the month. firstname.lastname@example.org
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