Firewalking Ceremony at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival Ampang

The firewalking ceremony at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang is the culmination of the festival and brings the world into balance.  Huge crowds turn out to witness hundreds of men cross the firepit as this is the most mystical of the festival rituals. This year (2010) the firewalking will take place on the evening of October 16th and marks the ninth day of the ninth moon and the end of the festival.  Firewalking symbolizes the acceptance of Yang and is closely associated with the bridge crossing ceremony (Yin) of the eighth day.  It has been explained to me that this ritual signifies “sending off the bad luck and ushering in the good luck”.  The power of Fire keeps away evil and helps us to overcome our impurities.

The men (Note: no women allowed) have kept a strict vegetarian diet for the nine days of the festival, wear white clothing (no metal or leather) and yellow head scarves, and each carries a pennant of the Nine Emperor Gods to protect him from harm.  The men walk barefoot across the pit, carrying the temple deities and other ritual paraphernalia, as well as bundles of garments, dried tea leaves, and other precious objects that will benefit from the uplifting power of Yang.  The men act on behalf of all worshipers of the Nine Emperor Gods to bring Yin and Yang into balance.

The bed of coals is prepared beginning in the afternoon of the ninth day and is lit at dusk.  As the flames burn down to coals, the men pray individually to the Emperor and then form an orderly line between the altar and the firepit to await the order to begin walking quickly across the coals.  The procession across the firepit is led by the Taoist priests.  The spirit mediums, in trance, follow to open the way for the others. The crowd seems to get most excited when the chariots are carried quickly across the fire.

When all of the men have crossed the fire pit, the coals are doused with water and then bits of coal are passed out to worshipers.  Believers understand that this coal has been blessed by the emperor and has power to bring luck when taken home.

It is a real honor for these temple workers to represent the wider community.  It takes years of volunteering to be chosen to do this.  Below is a fun photo taken in the office at the temple.  The photo, which was shown to me, is of two organizing committee members crossing the firepit some years ago.  There was much story telling and camaraderie as the men anticipated this year’s ceremony.

If you plan to watch the event you must get there early to get a place along the fence from where you can see.  If you want to photograph the event, you must go earlier than early.  There are a limited number of press passes this year which can be obtained from the office for entry inside the fence.  Sorry ladies – it brings ill-luck to have our fertile “yin” presence inside the sacred area.

If you are early you can watch the spirit mediums bless the area of the firepit before the fire is lit.  As well, there are special ceremonies after the firewalking, including a special tribute to the Nine Emperor Gods by the opera troupe in front of the main altar. The temple is cleared out just before midnight and a final ceremony that I call the “Round and Round” is enacted by the male temple volunteers in which they pass ritual objects from person to person along lines formed between the main altars of the temple.

If you are still full of energy after a night of rejuvenating ritual, you can watch the procession to send off the Emperor.  It leaves the temple about 3AM on the morning of the tenth day – October 17, 2010.  See you there!

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9 responses to “Firewalking Ceremony at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival Ampang

  1. this should be a National Geo show..

    • @ sarah – there is material here. Some really good photographers working the festival too. Of course Penang and Phuket have more of the spectacle – trance and piercing. They attract more attention and would probably get the Nat Geo contract before we would!! The Ampang temple is considered very powerful and people come from all over SE Asia. I’m happy to be here.

  2. Nice write up, And first time I heard the send off will be on the 10thday midnight..

    Normally in Northern part the send off will be on the 9th day evening..

    *Agree with what Sarah said, I think this can be a newsworthy in NatGeo or even discovery channel.

    • @ weyjuo Send off is in the middle of the “night”. It will be 3AM on the 10th – very early in the morning. They tell me that they can’t take the god back until the 9th is finished.

  3. Cheryl : You are right
    weyjuo : Different place having their own time, i been which local at sabah KK at last 2 year, they send on 00:00 10th… They send the god back to sea. That is really very nice…
    Cheryl : As is told you… Next year if can i will take a time visit KK’s 9 emperor god…

    • @ mocha – Yes, I have heard that it is nice to go to the sea to send off the Emperor and that KK is a very nice ceremony. In Ampang, they use the water very poetically. Very dark place, but beautiful with the light from the fire.

  4. But however the other place having, I still love here, Temple Nime Emperor Gods make me feel proud on it !
    Cheryl : Very happy to meet with you and thank you for did all of this.

  5. Hi there Cheryl. You seem to like the mystical aura emitting from this Taoist festival. I think you have covered Ampang & Penang well. Well done, your photos are really captivating 😉 I love snapping photos too. As a Nine Emperor Gods devotee and an ardent photographer myself,i’m most of the time torn between participation in the age old rites and rituals, or to keep those fleeting moments on still photo..my gosh,it’s so hard to make up my mind! Nevertheless,i would suggest you to come over to Melaka to cover the same festival at Bachang temple. You’ll be able to witness a different variation from that of Penang. One interesting thing here is that the temple have got a daily recitation of praise to the gods in Hokkien language, around 8 pm throughout the duration of the festival.

    • @ sampuna – Great idea to come to Melaka. I do have the problem that I can’t be in more than one temple at a time. What to do! I will have to start working on a strategy for next year. Thank you for your comments.

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