Yu Lan is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Ullambana. It is believed the Yu Lan Festival originated from the Buddhist story where Mu Lien, or Maudgalyayana in Sanskrit, rescued his mother from hell. Mu Lien was one of the most important disciples of Buddha.
The Yu Lan Festival takes place in Asian countries where there’s Buddhist influence.
In Hong Kong, the Chiu Chow community’s Yu Lan rituals entered the list of national intangible cultural heritage in 2011, alongside the Cheung Chau Jiao Festival, Tai O dragon boat parade and Tai Hang fire dragon dance.
Although the majority of Yu Lan ceremonies are organised by Chiu Chow people, kaifong associations, such as the 30 Houses Yu Lan Association on Staunton Street in Central, hold similar rituals for the well-being of their community. The scale of each ceremony varies, depending on the financial clout of their organisers. The 30 Houses Association, for example, no longer runs Chinese opera performance as part of their Yu Lan ceremony, but that tradition is still kept at the Yu Lan ceremony staged at the Sheung Wan waterfront nearby. But whether or not there are opera shows to entertain both the living and the ghosts of the dead, all Yu Lan organisers will distribute food handouts to the needy.