Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Chinese Taoism Funeral

My old friend Crystal passed away about 2 months ago after a big battle with breast cancer that eventually spread all over till her lungs collapsed. She was brave and fought hard till the end knowing that her survival chances were slim. She requested for no life support or medications to prolong her suffering anymore. She knew that her big supportive family members had been showering all their love and attention but she could no longer bear to see them suffer as well. Her 7 loving nephews and nieces were like her own children that she never had. Her final requests was to have the fullest & elaborate Chinese Taoist funeral in accordance to the Hokkien clan's rites. She wanted her funeral wakes to include the Taoism-Buddhist prayers, happy band singing, big loud drummers, paper mansion and street funeral band procession on her funeral day. Crystal wanted to be sent off happily and in style. I was very amused when her family member told me that. It was just her, who always enjoyed the merrily songs and dance.

My friendship with her went back to the late 80s when I was the wildest party animal who went clubbing many nights weekly in Penang. My own clubbing nights were often at the popular Rasa Sayang Hotel's Cinta Discotheque and also Orchard Hotel's The Cinnamon Tree along the coastal areas. Crystal loved the discotheque scenes where she could shake & dance cha-cha very well. She was tall and stood at 5' 10' with a very sweet face which attracted many friends who enjoyed her companionship of an often shy & girl-next-door's giggles covering her mouth. My best friend fell madly in love with her older sister instead and went on hot pursuit to woo her! So my gang of monkeys went clubbing with the 2 sisters as well. Later on, Crystal got acceptance to study at University Science Malaysia and told me that her dancing days were over as she had to focus seriously on her studies! The following year, I left for United States and my best friend married her older sister during my absence. Over the years I did not keep in touch with Crystal but we met just once when I drove over to her house to meet my best friend.

I am sharing this long post of her funeral which might interest some readers from different religious faiths and foreign countries. The 48 photos below will illustrate how a typical Chinese Taoist funeral rites are conducted.


1. The funeral wake was held for 3 nights at her family home.
The casket was placed inside the living room.

2. Her graduation photo was placed on the altar at the end
of her casket and flanked by a pair of paper "male & female servants"
who will serve her in the after world.

3. The prayer altar was set up outside the house with the
scrolls of the Taoism deities.

4. The family ordered this custom made 'Paper Mansion" which would be enjoyed
by the deceased in the next life.

5. There were many boxes of  "money" and " treasures" that
would be burnt later that midnight.

6. Close-up view of the entrance to her mansion. There was
a uniformed guard at the door with some kitchen utensils to use.

7. They also ordered some movies and CD songs with a Flat Screen TV and
satellite TV service! Wow!

8. They served many types of delicious nyonya kuehs and hot black coffee
for the visitors and well wishers. They also had a fabulous chef on
duty to fry yummy Char Kueh Teow for everyone. We all enjoyed
eating and chatting with friends to rekindle the good days.

9. My wife had never met Crystal but she promptly sat down to
chant the whole prayers from the sutra book of DiZang Wang Bodhisattva
to dedicate the merits to Crystal for a good journey.

10. My wife had notified the nephews and nieces to observe the 3 joss sticks
that she had placed on the urn at the start of her long prayers. They were told
that when the 3 joss sticks started to burn at different lengths all the way down,
it would signify an auspicious journey.

11. The brood of nephews and nieces were so excited to see the 3 joss sticks
had really reached the auspicious lengths as per the website's photo above.
The soul of Crystal "communicated" with her older sister who gave their assurance
for her to go in peace to the better realms.

12. The band started to sing some happier songs that final night.

13. The Taoist Monk in yellow robe conducted long prayers and
rituals together with the entire family members.

14. The Taoist Monk led the family members to cross over the
mini heavenly bridge.

15. The niece carried the urn with lighted joss
stick to represent the deceased.

16. At midnight, they placed all the paper offerings, money, treasures and
mansion at the cross junction near the house to burn them all.

17. When all the paper offerings were burnt, it would be sent
instantly to the "after world".

18. The paper mansion being set on fire.


19. An altar was set up outside the house with food and fruit
offerings before the funeral at 2.00pm.

20. The clothes and shoes of Crystal were placed on the chair
with her paper effigy attached. Her clothes & shoes had her DNA.

21. The band sang their final happy songs that could be heard
in the whole neighbourhood.

22. The paper sedan chair was prepared ready to carry 
Crystal's soul which would make its way to the crematorium.

23. It was a very sad moment to have their last look at
their youngest sibling Crystal and bade farewell.
They have 6 siblings and Crystal was a very caring sister
who spent a lot of time doing long prayers before she was sick.
She often showered all her family members with her generous
gifts. They all loved her so much! This made me wonder why
good and kind people always died so young?
Karma Rules.

24. 2 sets of drummers hammered their last thunderous numbers
in front of the casket.

25. Her effigy had been placed on the sedan chair outside
by the road sides.

26.  The Taoist Monk conducted the final rites before
the funeral ceremony.

27. The casket was placed outside the house, right behind the
altar and the hearse transport.

28. The back of hearse transport.

29. The front view of the funeral hearse.

30. All the family members and friends paid their last respects
to the deceased.

31. The funeral cortege left the house and all the mourners walked for
some 2 kilometers away before boarding the chartered buses.

32. The sombre funeral procession.

33. The funeral street band followed by the Taoist Monk
and the sedan chair.


34. The final place - United Hokkien Cemeteries.

35. This is the foyer area of the crematorium.

36. The coffin was placed outside the entrance to the
cremation chamber.

37. The drummer giving his final beatings on the big drum
for a good send off.

38. Final rites conducted by the Taoist Monk before
the cremation starts.

39. The body was cremated inside the chamber while the Taoist 
Monk led the family members to the open space to send off the

40. The family members circled the sedan chair with prayers
before lighting it on fire.

41. The final send off.

42. This terrace, houses all the other urns at the columbarium.

43. There was a food canteen with the comforts of air cond
and dining tables for the mourners and well wishers.
They served white porridge with dishes for our lunch.

44. This is a common sight at Chinese funerals where they
would place a bucket of fresh water with petals of assorted
flowers. The colourful and pretty flowers are always believed 
to contain good frequencies.
This water would be used to wipe our hands and faces
to help purify & brighten up our well being after attending
funerals which are deemed as "Yin" occasions.


45. The funeral undertakers had collected the ashes and placed
them inside the metal pan for the family to sort out.

46. The ashes have been sorted out and arranged inside the white
marble urn. The undertaker sealed it with glue and tied with a 
red fabric ribbon.

47. The Taoist Monk conducted a special prayer to bless the new
niche to place the urn. This columbarium was inside another
temple grounds of another location in Penang.

"May Her Soul Rest In Peace
In The Land Of Eternity."



  1. I feel indeed touched by this post and all pictures here.
    1. Anay went to the wake till very late to witness the burning of the mansion.
    2. Anay sent Crystal on her last journey in her funeral.
    3. Anay too went to the collecting ashes @ COLUMBARIUM.
    4. Letchumy chanted Di Wang Jing and assisted the siblings/nephews during the wake.
    5. Anay took all pictures in such detailed manner.

    I was touched by all these. Anay is a true friend to Crystal and Letchumy is so kindhearted to chant and dedicate the merits to your friend. I wish two of you are blessed with good health and happiness.

    May Crystal rest in peace.

    1. Thank you for your kind wishes. Anyone would have done the same for the demise of their friends. I didn't do anything much there except click photos and drank so much kopi sio-sio with all the kuehs! Her passing really made me think so much about our life's cycles and karmic issues.

  2. Yes, a nice friend you are, TM... Condolence to you and her family...

    1. Thank you Claire. You have so many more nice friends too. I am glad you are having good days with everyone around you. Good health is important for us.

  3. Thank you for sharing the ritual Anay.

    Condolences to the family.

    1. Most welcome. BTW not all Chinese families hold the funerals this way. It depends on the clans and family's choices. You had seen some photos of my mum's funeral. It was just different and quieter affair.

  4. That was very nice of your wife.
    The paper sedan is not something I have seen before.

    1. You are a city boy and might not have seen many more items of Chinese funerals. That's why I shared them here. I might be blogging about our huge Chinese cemetery in Semenyih someday when I have found the right time.

  5. the deceased is such a pretty & kind lady. I feel so sad that she passed away at young age. But anyhow I felt creepy when u mentioned about "Crystal's soul stood behind her solemnly"....gosh! u can see her soul?

    1. Her passing made me think a lot about our human lives and its journey on earth. Everything is just an illusion.

      The clairvoyant even spoke to her soul.

    2. I agree with you when you say everything is just an illusion, sometimes when I think about my past, I felt I was like in a dream, suddenly I think and ask myself "have I been here, here, here before." Gosh everything seems so unreal, like a dream

  6. An elaborate funeral for a fine lady, my condolences to the family.

    I am surprised that there is a significance when burning incense sticks as I thought that all three should burn at the same length, not knowing that when they burn in three levels, it is a blessing.

    I come from a Hokkien family and some of the rites were observed when my grandfather passed away. It wasn't elaborate but most of the details were there. My assignment during the wake was to write the names and contributions given by the visitors. They were not in simple Chinese numbers so I was constantly looking at the code under the table so I could write them correctly.

    Thanks for sharing these, something to learn again.

    1. That was also my first time learning about the level of joss sticks burning at the auspicious levels. This is no magic as when one lights up 3 joss sticks together, they tend to burn at the same level throughout.

      So you are a Hokkien and that is a very interesting clan. Have you heard news that this Hokkien dialect is the oldest spoken dialect since the Tang Dynasty in China! I am fluent in this dialect too although I am a Teochew guy. Can you speak Hokkien???

    2. I was more worried about one of the joss stick dying rather than burning together or burning faster than the rest. I used to believe that luck is placed whether they burn or not, but must be just me.

      Yes, we do speak Hokkien when I am home with my grandparents and dad. My high school friends still speak the language though we converse in mix languages. In my stay here in Thailand, I have not met anyone who speaks Hokkien but they do speak Teochew. Hokkien for me was very helpful when I travel to places like Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.

  7. Thank you for sharing this knowledge. May I ask what do you mean by sorting out the ashes? Apart from ashes, were there other pieces of items that need to be removed and not placed in the urn?

    1. - Last year when my mum passed away, my family went to collect her ashes (bones) which was placed on the metal tray. We were briefed that we have to tell them how & what we would like to do with the ashes, as next step.
      - Looking at our confused faces, they explained that some would scatter them into the sea or keep them in the niche or even bury them into the burial plots. On hearing that we need to keep inside the urn until my father joins her later. By then we will scatter them both into the seas around Phuket or Hua Hin or Penang as per their wish.
      - The bones would normally have the biggest fragment piece which happens to be the top crown of our skulls. Other bones would have been burnt into smaller pieces. So normally the urn could not contain all the bones and no one would ever want to dispose any parts away. What they suggest is that we pick whatever we might want to keep at home or keep them intact inside the urn. The skulls fragment would normally be placed on highest level inside the urn, followed by our choices, hand picked by family members. The balance, the workers will pour into their sophisticated grinding machine which would grind the bones into finest powdery flour!!! They will pour this bones powder inside the bottom of the urn, followed by all the selected bones and crown fragment bone. The urn will easily accommodate everything and ready to be sealed with silicon glue.
      - I would not advise anyone to cremate the jewelries or watches or coins with the body as they would be melted and mangled. What a waste!

    2. Thank you for your detailed reply. Now I know that there will be remaining bones to be put through the grinding machine into powder. Easier now for me to write my will on what I want to happen after I am cremated when I die. Thanks!

    3. Oh dear, thanks for reminding me to write a will. I have no valuable assets but a will is still necessary.

  8. I did this once, I chanted the Rebirth In Pureland Mantra at a friend's father's funeral hoping he will have a good journey and be reborn in the Pureland

    Crystal, rest in peace

    Thanks for sharing the information

    1. You are so kind to your friend's father. Hope you will always pray for everyone who passed away in your circles.

    2. I also took part in being a volunteer and I went down to hospitals and funerals to chant mantra to people who have passed away.

      In Chinese, they call it 助念往生, it is to aid them to go to Pureland and that is a very meaningful thing which I did previously.

      But nowadays seldom go already, cos I don't have a car and sometimes the places are quite far away and I have to spend a lot on transport and certain days I am tie up so cannot go.

    3. You have a kind and selfless heart to pray for others especially the departed ones. Many people are very afraid to attend funerals or even go near dead bodies.

  9. After I see your pictures only I know ashes will be "sorted out" with family members. I thought after cremation, the people there will do everything, and just pass the urn containing the ashes to family members..

    1. I used to think the same way until I had to face my mother's own ashes where we had to decide several things. You can read my reply comments to Mun (above)

  10. Crystal, rest in peace and condolences to the family.

    1. I am sure Crystal has gone to the Land Of Eternity.
      Thank you...!

  11. I had no idea that a funeral can be so elaborate. May Crystal rest in peace.

    1. It depends on individual. In Penang, many Chinese families still observe various funeral rites which I had seen before. They include hiring actors and actresses to play the roles of their deceased parents.

  12. Looks more or less like what happened when my grandma went away too. I was too busy to be taking photos to blog then. Truth be told, I doubt I could bear to take photos of a funeral ritual even if I am not busy. You're da bomb, man!

    My grandma too had both Taoist monks and Buddhist monks reciting prayers for her on different nights. I can't help but get confused actually. The Taoist prayers, as usual, are chanting to call her soul back home whereas the Buddhist prayers are chanting to tell her to let go and move on to the next life. I wonder which one would she listen to at that time @.@ ...

    1. I know myself. I am always daring and thick skinned fella. I even took many photos during my mum's funeral last year. My head was half grieving and half blogging too!!

      I often had 1001 questions during the Taoist funerals but my friends often had no idea why this and that?? They thought I am too nosy but I had to know lah.

      You are absolutely right about the different funeral chantings of the Taoists and Buddhists which I will discuss with the rightful people next time. I better not give my opinion as each one have their own beliefs.

    2. Wow RG, why are you so knowledgeable about what the different monks chant about?

    3. I had to sit in on the main prayers, so I get to read the texts. It is not hard to deduce if you understand the meaning of the words. But this is sort of common knowledge also la even without reading. Buddhism is all about letting go, whereas Taoism (Chinese really) is usually more about getting your ancestors to bless you. If they let go and move on, why would they bother?

    4. You can be a part time Namo Lou with your good experience. Help the less fortunate ones.

  13. I never see paper sedan chair as well, very unique indeed~

    1. This sedan chair is very common in Penang. They also have many big lanterns that followed the hearse to represent the number of son-in-laws they have.

  14. Replies
    1. Oh yes, she has gone to a better realms.

  15. I'm sorry for your friend but I'm sure she's in a better place. My late father-in-law held a taoist ritual & it lasted 7 tiring days. Told my hubby if the day ever come for me, I want a quiet & peaceful one without all those chanting & loud banging of music. Hahaha! Guess each has his/her own preference......

    1. My grandfather's funeral was like 5 days and I slept 5 days after his funeral as I was exhausted. I can imagine the 7 days you had.

      I think a peaceful and quiet funeral with soft prayers would be nice.

  16. The older generation would be skeptical to take photos at funeral... for the fear of taking something unusual inside the photo

  17. My grandmother's funeral a few years back was similar but we didn't had as many rituals. I wanted to take my camera along to photograph the funeral but my parents didn't seem keen on the idea so I left the camera at home.

    My condolences to the family. May she find peace and comfort on the other side.

  18. Sorry about your friend.

    Very long time have not seen such elaborate funeral. Think last time was my grand father's funeral and grand uncle funeral. My granny's was simple one. I did atend many funeral as each time after go will fall ill.

    Thanks for the explaination about the sorting of bones.


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