The Por Tor Festival commences on the 15th day of the seventh waxing moon according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Thais with Chinese ancestry believe that the Gates of Hell open at this time to allow the spirits of their ancestors to re-enter the mortal realm to visit their relatives and seek food and entertainment.
Hungry ghosts, also know as preat in Thai, are said to be human-like with a tall skeletal figure, long neck, and very small mouth, which keeps them from ever satisfying their hunger.
The are believed to be people whose deaths have been violent or unhappy, as well as the ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they died.
Festival activities are centred around Por Tor Kong Shrine in Phuket Town, which is dedicated to the god Por Tor – the King of Hell. The shrine features painted panels depicting some of the gruesome punishments handed down by Por Tor to those souls judged to be worthy of such suffering.
During the festival participants prepare various foods, carved fruits and colourful desserts to place at altars for the spirits of their ancestors.
Many people also set up extra offerings at the back of their homes to invite the lost souls that have no family to come and enjoy the festivities.
It is also traditional for families to offer prayers to their deceased relatives and burn fake currency as “hell money”, which is believed to be a valid currency in the underworld and helps ghosts to live comfortably in the afterlife.
In Phuket, “red turtle” cakes called ang ku, which come in various sizes and are made from flour and sugar, are central to the celebrations and form an important part of the offerings made to Por Tor and hungry ghosts. The turtle represents strength and longevity, while the colour red is associated with good luck.
Unfortunately, Phuket City Municipality has announced that there will not be a traditional parade of red turtle cakes this year, which in Phuket have become a symbol of the Por Tor Festival.
“This year Phuket Municipality will not hold the ang ku parade or other amusements as part of the festival because we are now in mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej,” said Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana.
“Every year at this time, Phuket holds the Por Tor Festival to give thanks and offering to our ancestors as a way to express our gratitude. This practice has been passed on to us from generation to generation,” she said.
“This annual giving not only gives the spirits great food, but also brings luck and good health in return to the givers,” Mayor Somjai added.
Festivities at participatinglocales and shrines in Phuket Town this year:
• Sept 3 and Sept 10 – Thaihua Museum on Krabi Rd.
• Sept 5 – Joor Shu Kong Shrine (Surin Circle).
• Sept 6 – Jor Ong Shrine (Talad Nuea Community).
• Sept 7-8 – Fresh market on Ranong Rd.
• Sept 9-19 – Por Tor Kong Shrine, near Ban Bangneaw School on Phuket Rd.
• Sept 11 – Gew Leng Ong shrine on Takua Pa Rd