Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Jung Yuan Pu Du 中元普渡

I originally wrote a version of this hoping to publish in the China Post, but it seems unlikely they will use it. It’s not really a travel article, and it is losing relevance fast as ghost month draws to an end. I haven’t posted for a while…so, here it is. (I’ll get some new pictures up sometime too).

Pu Du is a sacrificial ceremony for feeding ghosts often seen at the beginning of temple festivals to placate ghosts with no heirs to care for them. Jung Yuan Pu Du traditionally falls on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. However, as this writer belatedly discovered last year, the celebrations are not rigidly held on this particular day by all temples. In fact, most temples in Tainan that this writer went to on the fifteenth had held their celebrations earlier in the month.  Also, ‘celebrations’ is perhaps a little overstated as the observance is generally a somber affair, but the rite of Pu Du is certainly one of the more interesting among Taiwanese religious observances.

 

Jung Yuan Pu Du could simply be explained as the climax of ghost month, and as such, an explanation of Jung Yuan Pu Du should begin with an explanation of ghost month. Ghost month lasts for the whole seventh month in the lunar calendar (this year’s ghost month began on the first of August and will end on the 30th of August)  and is similar to western Halloween’s Celtic origins, in that it is a time when the gates to the ghost world open and ghosts freely roam the mortal world for a period of time. However, in contrast to Halloween’s modern form of donning costumes and trick or treating, Pu Du is a more reverential and solemn affair. The ghosts without descendants to feed them are called “wandering souls (孤魂野鬼)” as well as many other euphemistic names including; “the answering men (應公)”, “the hordes of old men (大眾爺)”, “the justice men (義民爺)”, “the Lao Ta men( 老大公)”, “the good men (萬善爺)”, but most commonly “the good brothers (好兄弟).” Obviously, one wouldn’t want to call them a less than flattering name like ghosts or demons and risk their wrath. The good brothers are blamed for many of society’s ills and must be placated in order to have a more harmonious society. Placation comes in the form of feasts and chanting.

Further, Pu Du may be split into three parts: inviting the ghosts, feeding them and reading the sutras (誦經)and finally sending them away again. For the invitation, after the gates are opened, lanterns are hung to guide the ghosts to the temples where there is food. The temples must be cautious however, for if too many lanterns are hung attracting too many ghosts, and not enough food is supplied, this could anger the spirits, precipitating in a bad year. The offering of food would be the most important part of the Pu Du rite. Temples will have feasts for the ghosts, but the majority of the feeding would be done by the Taiwan populace by setting up tables full of food in front of workplaces or homes and burning incense and ghost money. Other rites worth noting are Chiang Gu (搶孤) or “stealing of ghosts” in which people compete to feed the most ghosts assuring themselves of an auspicious year and Ilan holds a competition where people scale greasy poles to get flags. Finally, the gates are closed on dusk of the 29th day and lanterns are taken down. This day would be accompanied by more feasts for the wandering souls and some temples invite the god Chung Kuei (鍾馗) to assure the good brothers do in fact return, thus keeping the people safe from their mischievous ways.
 

Temples devoted to You Ying Gong (有應),  a god unique to Taiwan, are good places to observe Jung Yuan Pu Du rites and can be found in cities all over Taiwan . You Yin Gung is alternately called Jin Dou Gung (金公), Da Mu Gung, Wan Yin Gung (應公), Pu Du Gung (普渡), Lao Da Gung (老大公), Wan Shan Gung (萬善), Da Cung Yeh (大眾爺)and Yi Ming Yeh (義民爺). Early immigrants to Taiwan faced many hardships such as  plagues, savages or the dangerous crossing from the mainland and many died. Worried that those without ancestors to care for them would come back as ghosts and do harm, their bones were collected and put in jars and worshipped in temples built around these bones. These bones became collectively known as You Ying Gung.

 

a link: ghost month

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One response

  1. I always learn stuff from your blog. Thanks

    August 24, 2008 at 7:31 am

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