Buying water or asking for water is one of the rituals at the Chinese funeral, and is responsible by the deceased’s eldest son or grandson.

In Cantonese funeral customs, this ritual is generally the same.

“Dan Fan”

“Dan Fan” symbolic the filial duties to be done by the deceased’s eldest son or grandson during the funeral. The “Fan” ( “幡” ) is make up of a thin wooden pole with a white cloth strap attached to its end. As times goes by, the current “Fan” has been replaced by a bamboo stick, with a lantern alike paper artifact tied at the end of the stick.

Buy water

In the past, most funerals are done at home. The main hall of the home will be converted into a mourning hall and the coffin will be placed at the main hall. The deceased’s eldest son or grandson will fetch water from the nearest river, put down some money symbolic buying of water. The water will be used to bathe the deceased before they put on their shroud.

“Ask” for water

Usually only applies to deceased who have not yet formed a family. Because they have no children, grandchildren nor nephews, the Taoist priest will then do prayer to “ask” for water from the river.

In addition to the above saying, there is also a saying that it is use to open the eyes for the deceased so that the deceased can see the road ahead in the underworld without being tripped over.

As time goes by, the ritual of buying and asking of water has been simplified. Nowadays funerals are held at HDB void decks or funeral parlour, there is also no river to fetch water. Hence river water has been replaced by tap water. Candle and joss stick will be lighted and prayer will be done at a corner near the void deck. A few coins will be drop to symbolic the buying or asking of water.

The Cantonese believe that funeral related stuff cannot be given as gifts. It required money to purchase as this symbolic good luck for the deceased’s family.

The Cantonese origin version of Dan Fan and buying water ritual

There was a story that tells the origin of the ritual of Dan Fan and buying water.

Long time ago, a woman and her son were dependent on each other. The son is a grumpy and violent person. Whenever he is dissatisfied, he will scold the mother and sometimes even beat her up. The poor women silently endure the torture as she loved her son so much. Her son is an ironsmith and works in a factory to support the family. And because the woman loves her son, she prepares the afternoon meal for the son and bring it to the factory every day. Knowing her son’s temper, she would be beaten if she arrived late, the woman will deliver meals to her son on time every day.

At the front yard where the son works, there were several big trees that provide shade for the workers to rest during break time. On one lunch time, as usual the son sat under a tree waiting for his mother to bring him his lunch, he heard a croaking sound from the tree. He looked up and saw a young crow bringing back food to feed an old crow in the nest. Looking at the scene, the son suddenly realised his mother’s hardship in bringing him up, and yet he not only did not appreciate that and often scold and beat his mother, which is really unfilial. He feels ashamed and guilty on what he has done to his mother all the while. Even a beast will not do something like that. After this, the son told himself he must treat his mother well from now on.

Tragedy happened on the same day when the mother was to bring him his lunch. For some reason, the mother was delayed and late in sending lunch for her son. She anxiously rush to the factory. The son saw the figure of his mother from afar, started to run towards her mother with joy hoping to admit his mistake and ask for forgiveness. However, when the mother saw her son running towards her, she thought that the son will again scold her and beat her for being late. In her fear, she dropped the meal and turned around to run away. The son, not knowing why chased after his mother. When the mother reached the river bank, with her fear, sadness and disappointment, she jump into the river to end her life. The mother was drowned and the body was floating on the river when the son saw her. As the son does not know how to swim, and there were green bamboo trees planted near the shore, he quickly cut the green bamboo and use it to pull the mother’s body back to the shore.

The son was filled with guilt and regret and started to cry. When he saw the mother’s face and body was covered with dirt, he took off his clothes and fetch water from the river to clean his mother’s face and body. He then used the green bamboo and make it into a pole and tied his mother’s body with his clothes to the pole and bring the mother back home.

From then onwards, “Dan Fan” and buying water or asking for water is one of the rituals that must be done at the Cantonese funeral to symbolic filial piety.

The above story is derived from a senior Cantonese Taoist priest. It is solely for reference and reading pleasure only.

担幡买水 或 担幡请水



“担幡”是由亡者的长子或嫡孙在丧礼中为亡者献上孝礼之一的仪式。所谓‘幡’ 是由一支细木棍,棍端绑有白色布条随风飞扬,由亡者的长子或嫡孙担著。随着时间的转变,现在的“幡”,已改由用竹支,在竹枝的尾端绑着一个类似灯笼的圆形纸竹笼。