The dou deng (lantern) is an apparatus used in Doaist lidou ceremony. The midou (rice measuring bucket) is filled with rice and candles are lit. Two wooden swords are stuck in the bucket diagonally from both sides and in its center are a round mirror, a pair of scissors, a ruler, a small scale, an abacus, coins and soil, etc. Meat dishes are placed as offerings in front of the altar. The ceremony is to pray to gods to exorcise all the evil spirits and bless the folks with peace and safety at home and prosperity at work.
The lidou ceremony is sometimes called baidou, meaning paying worship to the dou lantern. “Since dou symbolizes stars and stars are the homes of the twelve human yuanshen (spirit), the dou lantern can also be called yuanshen lantern, a symbol of the source of life. The communal dou lantern represents the lives of all the local residents. Each household also has its own dou lantern that represents the lives of the family members.” (Quoted from Liu Zhiwan.) There is also the folk belief that “northern stars resolve back luck and southern stars prolong life spans.” The lidou ceremony has always been valued widely. In general, the dou lantern can be set up on a long-term or temporary basis. The long-term ones are usually set up at temples during the spring or fall lidou ceremony, whereas the temporary ones are set up at spirit-appeasing or some special ceremony or at the Ullambana Rite at Chungyuan Festival.
The ritual of putting rice in the rice bucket, sticking in various objects and lighting up candles is apparently a symbolism stemmed from rice and light. Since ancient times, rice has been the most common evil-warding appliance. After the Han Dynasty, it was even used by Daoists as an instrument to call spirits. The rice in the bucket therefore carries the two functions of driving away evil spirits and calling deities. The lantern made by erecting lit candles in the rice is to convey brightness and warmth. The lasting light in the dou is a token of continuity and brilliant spirit.
The 15th day of the lunar 7th month is commonly referred to as the middle of July, or the Ghost Festival. On this day, Buddhists hold the Yulan Pen (Ullambana) Rite. Ullambana in Sanskrit means hanging upside down. Pen is the vessel for offerings in Chinese. Therefore, Yulan Pen literally means “with the offerings in this vessel the deceased can be freed from the suffering of hanging upside down.” All pious Buddhists can set up Ullambana vessel offerings on lunar July 15th to thank their parents for raising them. Initially it was a filial festival but after the Sung and Yuan Dynasties the rite gradually evolved from expression of filial piety to deliverance of spirits and became the Ghost Festival. Then the preparation of offerings and releasing of water lanterns were added to the celebration. Eventually, the “great boar” also became part of the “pudu” ceremony.
According to history books, Hakka people in their hometowns in China could choose any day from the 1st to the 15th in lunar July for the Chungyuan ceremony. Every household prepared fruit, some dishes and alcohol to pay respects to their ancestors. After dark, they would light up candles and incense outside and burn ghost money, referred to as “shaoyi” (burning clothes.) Some would release water lanterns on the river, called “pudu” (general deliverance). Some hanged paper on bamboo poles stuck in the rice field, called “guatianzhi” (paper hanging over the paddy.) Customs varied at different places. In Taiwan today, besides paying respects to their ancestors, most Hakka people also participated in pudu activities at various temples during the Chungyuan Festival.