Influx of visitors at the graves
MARCH 31, 2018 MAJORIE CHIEW The Star Online
Have you heard that you should bring a bunch of jingling keys when you go for Qingming prayers?
And has anyone reminded you to visit the graves with coins in your pockets?
It is said that the keys and coins will help you find your way home, so that you’d not lose your way or be stranded.
Above all else, the belief is that you must worship the Earth Deity (Tai Pak Kung in Cantonese) first before making offerings to the dearly departed.
If you fail to do so, you could have trouble finding your ancestors’ graves.
Qingming or Pure Brightness Day which falls on April 5 this year is Tomb Sweeping Day for the Chinese. They pay respects to their departed ancestors by visiting their graves and burning offerings. It is an important day in the 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar.
“The Chinese observe this annual ritual to show our respect and gratitude to our departed ancestors or loved ones,” says feng shui master Jessie Lee. Qingming, an act of filial piety, is an occasion to gather family members, from near and far, in remembrance of their ancestors.
Feng shui master Louis Loh says tomb sweeping can be done 10 days before and after the actual Qingming Day on April 5.
Lee adds that some people also observe Qingming two weeks before and after April 5.
Some families may need to visit different graveyards in different locations or even states to pay respects to their ancestors, so they do not have to adhere strictly to a particular day within the Qingming period, says Loh.
Although there might be clashes for those born under certain zodiac signs on certain days, Loh assures that they can still proceed to pray to their ancestors at the gravesite. However, they should try not to be the first to burn the joss sticks or light the candles.
Instead, be the last person to do so.
But even if you do not observe this practice, Loh says there is no need to worry as “no major incidents will befall them”.
He reminded Chinese families visiting their ancestral graves to pray for blessings and protection to inspect the tombs to see if they are damaged in any way.
In yin (burial) feng shui, it is believed that the condition of the ancestors’ tombs and their surroundings can affect living descendants’ wealth and health.
As such, many Chinese families would take remedial actions promptly to repair cracks or damages on the tombs to protect their well-being.
Confucianism emphasises treating our parents with filial piety, alive and deceased.
Hence, Loh says it’s important to bring some of the deceased’s favourite food as offerings.
If the deceased was not a vegetarian when he was alive, he says, it would be respectful to not offer vegetarian meals at the grave.
“If you would like to accumulate merits for the deceased, it would be good for you to become a vegetarian,” adds Loh.
Lee says paying respect to the departed sincerely is most important during Qingming. Photo: Jessie Lee
Lee answers some common questions on the dos and don’ts of Qingming.
What is a suitable time for tomb sweeping?
The transition period between Spring/Vernal Equinox (March 20) and Rain Grain (April 20) is a suitable time to observe Qingming.
Most people observe the recommended period of performing their Qingming ritual two weeks before or after the actual day of April 5 (March 26-April 19) or 10 days before and after April 5 (March 22-April 15).
So, expect busier traffic on the highways especially during weekends when the Chinese return to their hometowns for Qingming during this period.
Why is there a specific period for Qingming?
“The Spring Equinox energy of fire is ‘most balanced’ as the energy of the sun (in the day) is balanced with that of the night.
“We want to tap into the energy of earth, heaven and man that are in alignment. Whatever endeavours we make will be easier and unobstructed,” said Lee.
If there was a death in the family that is less than a year (new tomb), the family should go for Qingming prayers before the Spring Equinox.
What is the best time to visit graves?
Most usually visit the tombs as early as possible in the morning and finish their rituals to avoid the scorching sun.
According to Chinese astrology, the sun rises during the hour of the Rabbit (5am to 7am). However, 5am is still dark here. So, many people begin their prayers from 7am onwards, Lee said.
In the old days, the prayer ritual should end before 3pm. This could be because graves were located on higher grounds and people needed time to hike down before dark. Nowadays, people visit their late relatives’ graves till 5pm.
Who should pray first?
Hierarchy is important in Chinese culture. Most people pray to their ancestors according to seniority.
But these days, many Chinese think that if they are sincere in paying their respects, it doesn’t matter who they worship first. They schedule their visits according to family members’ convenience.
Can family members visit graves after Qingming?
Sometimes there are family members who cannot observe Qingming during the alloted period because they are abroad, for instance.
They can still offer prayers in front of the ancestral tablets, or visit their departed loved ones’ graves at a later date.
Who should not perform Qingming at the graveyards?
Some people advise pregnant women, young children and the sick to not visit graves during Qingming as the yin (dark) energy (of the graves) might affect them psychologically.
In modern memorial parks, Lee thinks it is not an issue if pregnant women and young children want to visit the graves.
Can menstruating women pray at the grave?
Menstruating women should not touch the Earth deity at the grave site out of respect for him.
There is no taboo restricting the holding of joss sticks and paying respects to the ancestors.
Should you wear bright or dark clothing?
Some elders forbid wearing brightly coloured clothing (red or yellow) to the graves. Others believe that people should not wear dark coloured clothes as it would attract wandering spirits.
But Lee said that the colour of clothes is not important, what’s more significant is one’s sincerity of paying respect to the departed ancestors.
Can we perform Qingming rituals for non-relatives?
One is deemed to perform a meritorious act if he or she perform the Qingming rituals for those whom they have no blood ties with. Such a ritual will not have any effects on the lineage of the person but he or she is believed to be able to accumulate merits.
What are the purification rituals after Qingming?
After Qingming, some Chinese believe that they should step over a small fire to purify themselves before entering the house.
After that, they should take a flower bath to throughly clean themselves. Lee explains these are precautions for peace of mind.