Clearing the debris from the gravesite and preparing all the offerings.
It's been some years since I was last back in KL to observe Cheng Beng (Qing Ming). Previously when I was back for the holidays I always stood in stead of my parents since they are not here and I had to replace as the son's side while praying and offering to my grandmother and grandfather as well as my great grandmother. This year my father was down since my sister was here at KL as well so we managed to go for it together.
My grandfather's grave near Bukit Seputih Cemetry.
Preparations were made my my two aunts days ahead before the weekend, shopping for the vegetarian foodstuff and cakes as offerings, buying the jossticks and hell notes as offering for the departed and getting everything coordinated for the five families that would be headed out to two different gravesites, one at the old Chinese Cemetry near Bukit Seputih and the other at Nirvana Memorial Park.
Lighting the jossticks for prayers.
We went a week before the official date where the gates of Hell were said to be opened for all the souls to have a reprieve to enter the human world again, to feast on offering by their living counterparts to sate their hunger and needs. I was often told that during the 'Ghost month' not to wander about late at night or to say unnecessary things while walking alone to avoid a stray ghost following me home at these times by my grandmother in the past.
My cousin scattering hell notes all over the grave.
Once the aunts had all the offerings set up, one for my grandparents and another at the small altar by the side of the tomb, which my cousin told me was a peace offering to the guardian diety, the next act was up to us youngersters to help scatter the white paper hell notes over the grave surface to 'invite' and ease the way for the souls to return and feast on the offering. After that was done, jossticks was also burnt and inserted to the graves.
More cousins helping out to scatter the notes.
It has gotten much easier nowadays compared to the past when we had to bring along parangs and machettes to clear away the year worth of lalang growth. With the cemetry management and maintenance being carried out by them, the grave site will most certainly be spanking bare to ease the worshippers. All that is required is a payment for the maintenance each other year.
The full setup is now ready, drinks, food, candles and incense.
Each of the family members now took three stick of incense and said a prayer while facing the grave before embedding the incense onto the front of the grave. A blessing was given for better fortune and that the departed would remember the living and help them in the coming year as well as to ward off any bad occurences. The next part involves sending offerings to the departed. These can come in various forms, the usual are gold chests with pseudo wealth such as hell notes, ingots and other paraphenillias that will be of use to the departed in Hell, as bribes to ease their suffering at the hands of the various Hell officials to enable a respite.
Paper hell money being sent off to the departed through burning.
Nowadays even the Hell denizens must keep up with the time, whereas in the past paper effigies in the form of servants and sedan chairs were burnt for the departed's use, the modern outlook has changed the needs at present and you can see such items as cars, motorcycles, handphones, television and even computers being burnt to enable the more savvy of the dead souls to enjoy a semblance of modern life. We often joke that if we sent this to grandma that she won't even know how to use such a gadget as the handphone since she never had it before.
Burning the treasure chest.
Next to our grave, another family has also decided to get the ritual done earlier than the others. It is quite a coincidence as most years we end up bumping into each other. They came prepared with a long yard of firecrackers and as they let it blow, the loud bangs can be heard throughout and red shreds of confetti blew all over the place, ushering in prosperity. I strolled around the grave site to see some of the more elaborate setups, the usual one mostly consists of a tombstone and a mound where the body is buried. The richer souls had entire mausoleums, one had a courtyard with paved walkways and stone benches and table replete with an engraved chess layout. Twin stone lions guards the gated walls of this courtyard and it was well over several meters in width and length.
Taking turns to toss the Hell money into the pyre.
While the prayers were done and time was spent waiting for the departed to come and enjoy the feast laid out beside the grave for them, the adults chatted away at more earthly matters; how the stock market was acting, which relative is doing well or not, tips on health, gossip and other mundane matters. At one point, my aunt was adminising me for taking photographs in the graveyard in case i attract some unsavoury elements back with me.
Taking part in eating some of the thick slabs of roast pork.
The next part most of us enjoyed with gusto. Before leaving we all had a share of the offering and the usual fare can be assured to be delicious since my aunt knows where to get the very best food. Thick slabs of fatty roast pork, vegetarian dishes, fruits and cupcakes were all devoured with gusto. Of course some were left for the grandparents but what fun would there be if the living and the dead cannot enjoy a communal meal together.
The gifts and offerings were nicely placed in the front of the grave before the prayers began.
We had another grave to visit before heading off to Nirvana. Great grandma and grandpa's grave was just situated a distance away. I have personally never met them before but it goes without saying that the present owes a great debt to the past and if it were not for them braving the journey to set their roots here in Malaysia, the next three generations might have had a different life all together. We were met by several other relatives here who had come to give their blessings and to honour those interred here. Again the same ritual was repeated.
Clearing away the dead leaves from the floor.
At this point the sun was scorching as noon approached. Most of us were tired and hot and just kept chugging from the mineral water bottle to try to cool off. Again we set about the same ritual except with more hurried pace to beat the noontime sun. Among us only the two of our aunts know the actual observance of the ritual and what needs to be done. Most of us, the younger generation don't really observe it anymore because we either never took to learn it or that most of us have converted to Christianity. So this may be the last few times that we may actually go about Cheng Beng once the current generation pass on, unless someone comes up and take the torch. Its a pity but it is really a beautiful tradition, honour those that has departed, remembering their lives when they were with us, coming together to see how far we have come in life and to look ahead to the future.
My aunt making an offering of incense.
After all is done, we had one final destination to go to, my grandmother's grave which was at Nirvana Memorial Park. It must be said that we have come far, from the days when my father and his siblings were living at Kampung Satu at Sungai Besi Airport when money was scarce and living was hard, all those five now have made something for themselves. Now being able to offer grandma a place at Nirvana shows that the current generation's station in life and also as a token of thanks for all the sacrifices that grandma had made to offer them the chance to be who they are today. Nirvana is really a nice place, said to possess the best feng shui to the departed, the staffs are professional by making all the arrangements, looking after the upkeep of the grave and prepare all the necessary items needed to observe the prayers. The scenery here is one of the most beautiful anywhere rivaling most of the sculptured gardens one would expect to see in a posh neighbourhood rather than at a cemetry. Its amazing how business intermingles with tradition to offer such a unique experience. It was now well past noon and the sun gave a really bad beating. Thank god for the umbrellas the Nirvana people provided. So for that day all things was done and after a hearty meal near Kajang we finally made it back home, dead tired, sun baked and glad the annual ritual was over for the year.
Setting the offering for grandma at Nirvana Memorial Park.