Segaki - A rite for the suffering dead

The term Segaki [施餓鬼] refers to a ritual traditionally associated with Japanese Buddhism. Commonly associated with other countries on the Asian continent such as China and Sri Lanka. The origin of the term Segaki brings it as the “feeding of hungry ghosts”.

Originally, it served to end the torment of certain ghosts who suffered from an insatiable hunger. They were the gaki and muenbotoke, the dead who faced suffering beyond what a human could tolerate or who had no living relatives.

The rite can force them to return to their places of hell and torment, or to relieve them of the burden of insatiable hunger. The ritual can be practiced at any time of the year, but tradition recommends that it be done during the Urabone.

Segaki - A Rite for the Suffering Dead

Urabone takes place annually in July, and is known as the Festival of Ghosts, or Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. In it, ceremonies are held to remember the dead, as well as to offer souls to the gakis and muenbotokes who are no one's ancestors.

Segaki takes place in Buddhist temples, but the tradition is also carried into homes. In them, racks and shelves are usually placed for the gakis, which are filled with offerings, especially water and rice.

The word Segaki [施餓鬼] literally means service for the benefit of suffering spirits. Composed of the characters [施] which means to give or alms together with [餓] which means hungry or thirsty and ending with [鬼] which means demon and ghost.

The emergence of the Segaki ceremony

The origin of segaki goes back to Moggallana, one of the closest disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni. Legend has it that in order to free his mother from the grip of the gaki, Moggallana looks for a way out.

Instead, he is forced by the Buddha to proclaim the Lotus Sutra, which results in all the gakis fleeing to the human world. To correct what happened, segaki appears as a way to return them to their domain.

Segaki - A Rite for the Suffering Dead

Another legend tells that the student Ananda, one of the ten main disciples of the Buddha, was visited by a gaki and that the latter told him that Ananda would also become a gaki within three days. To break the prophecy, he had to offer food to strangers, in order to avoid the transformation.

In fact, the strongest evidence indicates that segaki is an adaptation of an even older Chinese festival, which was held in memory of the dead. Currently, the ceremony in temples is accompanied by drums - Taiko, and choirs of religious leaders and visitors.

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