Ancestor veneration is an integral part of Confucianism, directly related to filial piety. After death, it is believed that the spirit is split into 3 parts with one residing in the grave, one sent of to heaven for judgement and the other resides in ancestral tablets. The tablets bearing the name of the deceased or sometimes only the family name is then treated as a living representation of the deceased, requiring constant care and nourishment in the form of food and drinks.
It is customary in Chinese practise for food items, especially those preferred by the deceased, to be placed at the altar along with the burning of incense. More than just a ritual, it serves as a constant reminder to honour one’s family by perpetually involving them in the daily routine. The foundation of ancestor veneration rests on the belief that the spirits of the deceased, now in the underworld, hold considerable influence over the daily happenings in the living world. Those who displease the ancestors are doomed to a life of bad luck littered with mishaps and calamities while those on the favoured list are blessed with riches and good health.
Even the spirit that continues to live in the grave expects to be treated the same. During the annual qing ming festival, families in Malaysia and Singapore visit the graves of their ancestors early in the morning before visiting close relatives. According to the ancient custom, grave site veneration is only feasible ten days before and after the Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date, normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged.
Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and even paper servants. Then the family members take turns to bow three to nine times (depending on the family adherence to traditional values) before the tomb of the ancestors which is performed in the order of patriarchal seniority within the family. The entire family or clan then feasts on the food and drink they brought for the worship either at the site or in nearby gardens, signifying family reunion with the ancestors.
The picture above was photographed in Kluang during the qing ming festival in 2013 where the burial ground was filled with hundreds of families tending to their respective sites.
Datuk Gong: Spirit of the Land will explore the relevance of such ancient rituals and the relatively modern cult of worshipping the Datuk Gong.