Sat, Aug 22, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Tainan temples host ‘ghostly guests’

By Huang Wen-huang and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Lanterns are lit on Wednesday to show the way for the souls of the dead traveling during Ghost Month to a “hanlin suo,” or model guest house, at a temple in Tainan.

Photo: Huang Wen-huang, Taipei Times

Temples in Tainan this month are to demonstrate hospitality to the “good brothers” — a euphemism for ghosts — by opening guest rooms, lighting paper lanterns and hosting sacrificial feasts.

According to traditional beliefs, the seventh month on the lunar calendar is “Ghost Month,” when the gates of the netherworld are opened and dead souls wander the earth.

During Ghost Month, temples in Tainan traditionally show compassion for souls by hanging paper lanterns to light the way for the weary, ghostly travelers, doling out victuals every day with sacrificial feasts and providing model guest houses, called hanlin suo (翰林所) — named after hostels for respected scholars in ancient China — so that they may rest and bathe before returning to the netherworld.

Hsieh Chi-feng (謝奇峰), an expert on local temple customs and folk culture, said that temples in Tainan practice the traditional hospitality rites for ghosts because the city was the first capital of Taiwan and had preserved traditional religious rituals better than other cities.

Hsieh said that the hanlin suo still found in some temples refer to guest chambers for well-bred ghosts of the shi (士) class, or scholar-officials.

The model houses are made at the beginning of the month and are usually burnt after the Ghost Festival on the 15th day of the month, Hsieh said, but some temples leave the hanlin suo for the entire month so that the “good brethren” may enjoy the temple’s hospitality for the whole month.

Model bathrooms, often furnished with soap and towels, are placed in front of the hanlin suo, he said.

Hospitality rites for wandering spirits by private households and the red lanterns that accompanied them were once a common sight in Tainan during Ghost Month, but such customs have ceased in modern times with the advent of electricity and replacement of traditional family homes with apartment complexes, Hsieh said, adding that some Tainan elders still maintain this tradition.

Traditionally the hospitality of Ghost Month is not only reserved for spiritual beings from the underworld. There has also been a tradition of providing temporary shelter for the homeless at some larger temples, so that they would have a place to stay and enjoy the food offerings after religious rituals.

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