“Example from the Past Shall Live on:Documentation of the Ghost Festival in Shilin”
Zhongyuan Pudu is a traditional custom held in the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The most famous Pudu takes place at Lao Da Gong Temple in Keelung, in northern Taiwan, but in fact, there is also a Pudu tradition that has been maintained for 160 years in Shilin named “Chih Shan Yan Celebration of Ghost Festival.” The origin of Pudu in Chih Shan Yean dates back to the Lin Shuangwen rebellion in the Qing Dynasty and the era of the internecine strife between Zhangzhou and Quanzhou ethnicities. As the dead bodies could be found everywhere during and after the strife, local residents could not bear to witness such atrocity and decided to bury them and held Pudu ceremonies for them. However, in order to achieve greater peace and long-term stability of the society, the four settlements near Chih Shan Yen, Taipei City, namely Shilinjie, Shipai, Beishan, and Nanya banded together and took turns to host the annual Zhongyuan Pudu ceremony. The four settlements represented a total of 49 villages in the region.
Chih Shan Yan Celebration of Ghost Festival is mainly focused on Chih Shan Yen Tongguisuo, also known as the “Great Tomb”. On the first day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, a ceremony of opening the gate of the tomb is held. The Buddhist/Taoist master hosting the ceremony opens the dome above Tongguisuo, symbolizing that the spirits of the departed inside can come and enjoy the offerings, and then, the master goes to the six Wanshantang’s in Shilin area to inform the wandering spirits settling in them that they can come out to receive offerings. The six places are: Shuichebian Wanshantang, Linzaikou Wanshantang, Niutaqiao Baolingta, Yongfu Village Shenggongma Temple, Pingding Wanshantang, and Neishuangxi Wanshantang. Located on the right side of Tudigong Temple opposite Shilin Shuangxi Park, you can see a small tomb with the words Taisho 5 (1916) inscribed on the tombstone. The small tomb is called the Shuichebian Wanshantang. The small tomb is called the Shuichebian Wanshantang. Linzaikou Wanshantang, which is not far to the left of Tudigong Temple next to Shuangxi Park, is a place that many people will see when they pass by but have never noticed. The Niutaqiao Baolingta is located on the campus of Ming Chuan University, which is unknown even to many students of the university. The seventh month of the lunar calendar happens to span over the summer vacation and the beginning of the new semester; therefore, every time the ceremony is held on campus of Ming Chuan University, it would attract a lot of attention of the students.
The highlight of the Water and Land Dharma Service on the 14th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is the releasing of the water lanterns at night. In the afternoon, the Buddhist/Taoist master led the sixteen village chiefs in Shipai, each of whom was holding a water lantern with the name of the village written on it. We departed from Chih Shan Yen Hui Chi Temple to all the Wanshantang’s and Shennong Temple and Cixian Temple, two of the three largest temples in Shilin. When the parade entered the Shilin Night Market from Jihe Road, the night was still young. Although the night market was not as crowded as before, the parade still attracted the attention of many tourists, and they stopped to take pictures. After that, the parade arrived at Shipai Fuxing Temple to meet with the residents of Shipai. The residents also prepared hand-painted water lanterns and would be ready to release them in Heshuang Riverside Park No. 21 in Zhoumei. The scene at Zhoumei was already very lively, with singing and dancing, as well as lion dance performances taking place. The gathering of local officials, elected representatives, and community leaders were all present, signifying the importance of this grand event.
In the morning of the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, a chanting sutra ceremony was held at Hui Chi Temple. The portraits of the ten Yanluo Wang hanging on both sides of the venue reminded people of the extremely popular Korean movie Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds in the previous years. The portraits also made the spectators feel cautious and vigilant. In the afternoon, the master of the ceremony and the truck fleet started to “look for wandering spirits,” that is, they went to all villages in Shipai, and in the evening, they returned to the Hui Chi Temple for the “Relieving the Flame from the Mouth.” The allusion of “flame mouth” came from the disciple of the Buddha, “Venerable Ananda,” which means to provide food to the spirits and hungry ghosts. After the ceremony, the master threw coins and candy to the worshippers. This is known as “Qianggu.” The only thing to note is to not pick up the coins and candy before they land on the ground or the spirits would mistakenly think that you were fighting for food with them.
The highlight after the flame mouth was the dance of Zhong Kui. Generally speaking, the role of the dance of Zhong Kui is to suppress evil. As shown in the Taiwanese movie The Rope Curse two years ago, the tone of the dance of Zhong Kui is softer in Pudu ceremony, and it is generally performed to tell the departed that since they have listened to the Dharma and received generosity, they should understand that they should not stay here. Even though today’s dance of Zhong Kui has added many performative elements and allowed others to watch it, on such a cautious occasion, except for Zhong Kui’s reprimand and the accompanying music, everyone’s eyes followed Zhong Kui on the stage and around the temple. During the movement, there were no other noisy voices, which demonstrated the solemnity of the ceremony.
On the first day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the tomb gate closing ceremony was held. At noon, the master of the ceremony led the village chiefs in Shipai to Shuichebian, Linzaikou and Baolingta in Ming Chuan University, and then back to the Chih Shan Yen Great Tomb. In the afternoon, we first went to Shenggongma Temple in Yongfu Village, located next to Yang Ming Home for the Disabled in Yangmingshan, and then to Wanshantang in Pingding Cemetery in Pingdeng Village, and finally, to Wanshantang in the depths of Neishuangxi. This was the end of the month-long event.
In addition to accepting the enthusiastic assistance of many people during the documenting process, the members of the USR project of School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Soochow University have also found that most of the participants of the festival were senior citizens with a lack of young people. Through the documentation by images and videos, the USR team hopes that these precious images related to the locality of Shilin can be preserved, and this tradition can also be injected with a stream of fresh water so that it will go on in the years to come.
(Texts, images, and videos are produced by the USR project of School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Soochow University, Taiwan)
Link to the micro film : https://youtu.be/LrKOyX2rNxY
Link to the website of the micro film : https://reurl.cc/0ONzWb
Link to the google maps : https://pse.is/3gheul