Today is a sharing day. The joy in this photo has to bring a smile to your face! Was everyone having as much fun as we were?
I haven’t been to the Ampang temple for two days but I can tell by the posts out there that a few of you have been!
Blogger Sean Liew shot some video at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple yesterday. Day 2 is a very fun day that includes an evening procession to invite the Finance Minister to the temple. Check out the post here: http://up-your-toot.blogspot.com/2012/10/nine-emperor-gods-ampang-2012-day2.html#links
I was in JB yesterday at the Sam Sieng Keng Temple for their Nine Emperor Gods celebration. Check out their Facebook Page here. I will post some photos from my visit there soon. Meanwhile you can check out Nat Geo photographer Justin Guariglia’s photo of the lovely Taoist priestess at the Sam Sieng Temple. Then you can see mine tomorrow!
If you are looking for more info on the festival and some good photo tips from a pro, TV Smith shares his wisdom on his blog www.tvsmith.my/nine–emperor–gods–festival–2012
And here is another good photographer (Tennyson) posting some photos. You should have a look.
A young photographer, Oh Bengkooi just sent me two face book albums, so have a look here and here.
And please send me a link to your photos and stories. It’s like the lucky money in the ang pow – use it to buy rice, share the rice with friends, and your luck will grow.
Let’s start with a photo of the Hong Kong St Temple leaving for the procession in Air Hitam (Farlim Temple) on Saturday evening. It’s been a goal/dream of mine to ride in a lion dance truck at Chinese New Year. But this might be better. I got to ride with Tow Pek Gong (can you see his beard blowing in the wind?), the beating drums and symbols, two awakened lions up front, and a group of guys who wanted to look very serious when I took their photo. Here’s the view out the front, with the yellow boat in the truck leading the way along Lebuh Kimberly.The procession was great fun too. Farlim temple sits up on a hill and I slogged up there when we first arrived to see some mediums being skewered with what I like to call “the Penang-style” implements. Could they be a little longer!? These guys are brave. Later on the parade route, this guy was actually trying to smile for the camera.At one point during the procession, one of these mediums was doing a twirling action with firecrackers on the end of the skewer, like the one pictured here, and the string of firecrackers flew off and in to the crowd! That’s crazy!I also wanted to share this photo of Kow Ong Yah, whom I hadn’t encountered in Penang in the first few days of the festival. There is a lot more of the Tow Boh/Duo Mou worship in Penang along with the gods that I am learning come with that. I was pleased as punch to see him and it reminded me of my good friends in Ampang and all the fun they must be having. This really is how I like to see him! An apparition.The procession was a good hike for the team from Hong Kong St who carried the Emperor’s yellow boat for the 8 km procession route. We were all pretty tired by the time we got back into the trucks, and the ride home was almost surreal. One of the lions even decided to sleep.There are so many events happening for the Nine Emperor Gods festival in Penang that I can’t possibly come close to providing a schedule for all of the temples. We are getting ready for the send off on Wednesday evening, that much I know. Many of the temples will be making their way to the sea to send off the Emperor in a joyous mingling of fire and water. There will be a lot of rituals and prayers at the Hong Kong St temple for the last few days of the festival, mainly in the evening. Stay tuned.
I visited two nearby temples yesterday to note some similarities and differences from the Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St temple. First off, I noticed that both of these temples use the Chinese Junk as their symbol. This of course conjures up images of Fujian sea farers and their migration to the Malay penninsula, religious traditions in tow.
Both temples were having their popular “show” -blaring music and bright lights that contrasted strongly with the Amoy opera that I am used to in Ampang and the quiet and perhaps more reverent setting of Hong Kong St (so far). One of the groups performing at Jelutong was called Dee Boss! Here is the scene from upstairs at the altar in Jelutong. Note the ornate boat on the left that is new and will be part of the upcoming processions. Jelutong temple will have its procession on Sunday evening and then will take this float out again on the last night to send off the Emperor.
And while we are on the topic of boats – here is the float from the Noordin St temple and in front of it, the small yellow boat that will be towed out to sea and set aflame when it is time to send the Emperor off.This small boat is on wheels and will be pulled, whereas the Hong Kong St boat is carried, palaquin style. Have I shown you the Hong Kong St boat yet? Here it is just after the lights were installed on it.The Jelutong boat is a bit larger than these two, but all are seaworthy and will float even when heavily laden with rice, sandalwood, joss sticks, candles and the Emperor’s urn.The Noordin St Temple, officially named Tow Moo Keong, is undergoing renovations and so this year the arrangement of the altars is a bit haphazard. However, the artifacts and deities are really impressive. Check out this huge urn.In contrast, the Tow Moo is very tiny and encased in a rather secretive dark altar (making it very difficult to photograph).I especially liked the symbols for the five Taoist directions on the Generals altar and the brocaded yellow curtain. I think this is the first I have seen that is so ornate.I also really like the three pronged plaque in behind the deity.The model of the Junk is a nice touch.
The Jelutong temple, officially the Tow Boe Keong Kew Ong Tai Tay, has a different geography. To begin with, the inner altar is upstairs from the main temple. From a distance it appears to hang in mid air above the temple.The altar upstairs includes a large Tow Boe and, to my delight, statues of the Nine Emperor Gods themselves, lined up in three columns of three, with the other deities on the main altar. The yellow curtain, in this case, was actually two curtains, one of each side of the altar. The heavy smoke from the joss sticks gave the deities an aura of mystery. Quite lovely. Here is a sample…I want to finish my post today with one of my favorite shots from the last few days. When we arrived at the Jelutong Temple, there was a medium in trance, providing advice to the temple on how to proceed with the festival. I caught these people in an intense moment of communication with the gods – asking and listening.
I dreamt last night of yellow and streaks of light in the night sky and so am glad of a day of distraction from the temple to give my imagination a rest! A couple of things happened yesterday to prompt my thoughts and give rise to this morning’s blog. Someone showed me some photos of the evening sky on October 3rd with clouds reflecting a brilliant light in the low sun. I was told that the lines across the sky were the heavenly spirits coming to the festival. Interesting. It reminded me of the light last week when I was alone at the temple in the rain at sunset. Here’s the photo I took then. Now you know why I need a day off!
And then yesterday again, a young man in the temple asked me if I knew the story of the Festival. I listened carefully as he told me the tale, according to his mother, of nine special humans (maybe brothers) who did good deeds and were so popular with the people that the jealous Emperor (of a long time ago) had them decapitated. Their death so upset the people that they began worshiping the nine brothers as if they were Emperors. When I asked him if he knew what was behind the yellow curtain he told me that he had no idea, but it must be the Emperor Gods.
I have asked a lot of visitors to the temple about the story behind the festival and there are so many variations – from blank stares, shrugs, and “We Pray to the God”, to more elaborate stories of headless heroes, magic musicians, sons of the Mother of Heaven, and of the stars in the sky. It really doesn’t matter what people believe, just that they believe. Their purpose in the temple is the pursuit of health, happiness and prosperity and it is personal and with good intentions.
Here is the myth that suits me best, probably because it is based on the geographical dissemination of popular culture. It comes from research by Cheu Hock Tong at the National University in Singapore. There is a link to the whole article in the sidebar, left. According to Cheu, the Ampang mythology ties in to the existence of a Hong Secret Society formed to overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming. Cheu writes “A Hong member by the name of Wan Yunlong was killed in battle…on the ninth day of the ninth month, 1783. His followers fled to Thailand, where, rebuffed by the Thai authorities, they moved south to the Penang area. Some Hong members settled in Ampang where they worked as planters and farmers and organized a clandestine movement to overthrow the Qing…”
I like this interpretation because it helps me understand the connections between the important Nine Emperor Gods Temples in Thailand and Penang and Ampang. But here’s where it gets really good and ties back to the yellow curtain. In Ampang, apparently, when the secret society was meeting (must have been in the 1860’s) the police arrived to investigate the gathering. This is what Cheu writes, “The group replied that it was praying for peace and protection. Seeing that there was only an incense urn and not image of any sort, the police said, ‘There is not deity here – what are you worshiping?’ One quick-witted soul pointed at the incense urn and replied ‘This is the god we worship!’…This accounts for the use of an incense urn to represent the Nine Emperor Gods during the festival.” Now, that’s a good story!!
Sooooooo, that MIGHT explain what’s behind the curtain! It’s all part of the secret and the wonderful aura of mystery that surrounds the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Worshipers pray in the direction of the curtain and give joss sticks to the guardians of the altar to place in the urn. Worshipers never see the Emperor but they believe he is there. Blind faith and it works for them.
Next blog – let’s think about more yellow at the festival. Here’s a teaser.
Posted in Background Information
Tagged 2010, 9 emperor, Ampang, Chinese Deities, Chinese Festival, Chinese Temple, Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nine Emperor Gods, Nine Emperor Gods Ampang, Nine Emperor Gods Festival, October, Procession, religion, spirituality, Taoism
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang is a cacophony of visual stimuli. That’s why I enjoy it so much – the combination of the sacred and profane, the commercial and the spiritual, the dark and the light, and, I suppose, the yin and the yang. There is so much to think about.And that brings me to one element of the festival that must not be ignored – the beggars. We all understand that beggars are by no means exclusive to the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. And we know that they are most attracted to religious occasions when their customers can gain “merit” by giving them cash.
Last year I was impressed with the number of beggars that lined every pathway at the festival. This year, the beggars were in place before the stalls for the vendors were even erected.
I noticed that the early arrivals were the ones with serious physical disabilities. The others, the women with babies and the orphaned children didn’t arrive until Day 1, today.
In their pleading, there is an alertness to our need to donate at a time of devotion. For recognizing that and providing us with an opportunity for charity, I give them kudos (and all my small bills and coins!)
Here is a moment that speaks of the need and the generosity that surrounds this aspect of the festival.
The needy are acknowledged and their presence is accepted graciously.
I sense a level of syndication in the presence of the beggars at the festival and it isn’t just because I watched Slumdog Millionaire. Last year, there were numerous disadvantaged “foreigners” at the other end of the extended cups. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that they aren’t needy and my heart goes out to them in the difficult circumstances they are in. I’m raising this because it makes me think about the ways that the underprivileged are victimized and that their plight is even more distressing than at first glance. I suspect that many of the beggars are brought to the site by facilitators who monitor their business and don’t leave too much money in the pockets of those to whom we give it. I spent one evening at last year’s festival observing. It reminded me of “Oliver” without the musical accompaniment and the fairy tale ending. A couple of times I tried to help in a way other than throwing coins in a cup and my attempts were met with disdain. Silly me, I thought a child might like a drink – but her mother brushed it away nervously and asked for money. It appeared that she was being watched and that makes it all the more disturbing.
One last photo that does beg the question – What is really going on here?
Posted in Background Information
Tagged 2010, 9 emperor, 9 emperor gods, Ampang, Beggars, Chinese Deities, Chinese Festival, Chinese Temple, Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nine Emperor Gods, Nine Emperor Gods Ampang, Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Nine Emperor Gods Temple, October
Mr Lim has been painting lanterns at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang since he was 19 years old – more than 50 years! He has seen a lot of changes and is proud to be part of the team that undertook the renovations and preparations for the 2010 festival. Lim has been a busy man for the past couple of weeks. He had extra lanterns to make for the processions this year, as well as helping with the big dragon heads on one of the temple floats. (Why don’t I have a photo of those??)
It takes Lim about 2 days to make a lantern – he starts with the wire frames and adds the canvas in a process that is similar to the way Chinese umbrellas are made. The paint (probably toxic) is a high gloss, with a shellac that hardens on the canvas. He then paints Taoist symbols – dragons, tigers and scenes from the “life of the Emperor” on the lanterns. If you would like to commission a lantern, it will cost you a bit – RM1,000 – negotiable, I’m sure. Otherwise you can have your name put on a lantern for RM50 and it will hang in the temple for a year.
Stop by and see Lim when you visit the temple. He is stationed behind the lantern altar, towards the dormitories, stage left of the main temple building.
Posted in Background Information
Tagged 2010, 9 emperor, 9 emperor gods, Ampang, Chinese Deities, Chinese lanterns, Chinese Temple, Crafstman, Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nine Emperor Gods, Nine Emperor Gods Ampang, Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Nine Emperor Gods Temple, October, Procession
Late afternoon at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple today was a flurry of last minute preparations. The “Masters” were there, a few devotees were arriving, and there were quite a number of curious onlookers. The flagpole goes up tomorrow, October 3rd and the procession to receive the Emperor starts at 7pm from the temple.
The three chariots being readied for the procession
Each chariot is adorned with 10 windings of strong, white ribbon on both sides. I was told that this pattern has a secret significance that was apparently not going to be shared with the curious crowd gathered around. I expect that its significance is mired in myth and it is likely, as well, that it provides much needed extra support to the chariot during the procession. In fact, the chariots go in to a real shake, rattle and roll when the Gods are placed in them – a real crowd pleaser. (Photos of that to come later)
The protective and secretive X pattern
Over at the opera house, the yellow curtains have been hung so that the Emperor can be placed there for one night.
The new statue of Tua Pek Gong has now been empowered and boasts the tiny red dots that indicate that it has been “opened”/blessed by a ceremonial act of a Taoist priest. This statue was made in China and flown to KL in its own seat on the airplane – you can’t put a god in the cargo hold!
Dusk fell quickly and the workers were still preparing the chariots as I left the grounds. You can see the flagpole on the left, in the photo below, ready for tomorrow’s raising ceremony.
The quiet of the scene tonight is like the calm before the storm. I’ll try to take a photo from in front of the gate tomorrow to show you the difference 24 hrs makes.
Posted in Background Information, Mainly Photos
Tagged 2010, 9 emperor, 9 emperor gods, Ampang, Chinese Deities, Chinese Festival, Chinese Temple, Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nine Emperor Gods, Nine Emperor Gods Ampang, Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Nine Emperor Gods Temple, October, Procession, religion, spiritual, spirituality, Tao, Taoism