Category Archives: Mainly Photos

Other Photographers Show Their Stuff

Oh how we pine for those bundles of Joss Sticks.  So, to help those of us still looking for a Nine Emps fix – I’m passing on some work by some other photographers.  The photojournalists (of course) were the first in.  But the other photographers have been busy for the past week, editing and posting.  The photos below are the property of the photographers and are copyrighted.  Thanks and kudos to them for giving me permission to post them here.

You can start with a visit to my favourite Nine Emperor Gods blogger, Sien Liew and his up-your-toot-blogspot.  I think his blog should be called “The Reverent Irreverent” or maybe the “Irreverent Reverent.”  He makes me smile.  Be sure to read the captions.  Sean’s blog combines entertainment, religion and photography.  Who could ask for more!?!

The next place you should go is to Rahman Roslan’s blog.  His work always knocks me right off my chair.  I love what he did in the few hours he was at the festival on the Ninth day.  Check out how he sees the light and how he captures the essence of the place.  He’s a photojournalist extraordinaire.  The B&W is quite effective at a festival that screams colour.  You can check out his work on his blog here:

Then check out Raja Indra Putra’s photos on his FB.  This is a photographer who really should have a blog. Ripi is a great street photographer, who is always insightful.  He sees a lot of things differently than most of us.  Gotta love this stuff.  He says this is his first trip to the Nine Emperor God Festival but it’s hard to believe that when you see his work.  He is wise beyond his years!  When you go to his albums here and here, be sure to tell him that he should have a blog!  I hope those albums are public.  If not, friend him and let him know he should have a blog. 🙂 He’ll thank me for that!

I recommend that you have a look at Matt Brandon’s blog for some shots from Penang.  Matt thought I could embed his slideshow in my blog, but he doesn’t know me very well!!  And his blog/website is very upscale (read secure) in keeping with his photography, so I had to resort to grabbing an image. Matt is new to the world of the Nine Emperor’s so it is interesting to see how he applies his photography skills to the colour, lights and drama that is the festival in Penang.  I think you will get lost in a lot of his other portfolios when you open up his site. Exquisite work.

And if you are still hungry for images, go to Yee Loon’s Facebook album.  The dozen photos posted there leave us asking for more.He has been photographing at Ampang for awhile now, has developed some good access and personal relationships and you can see in his photos that he plans ahead and anticipates well.  That’s an important part of photographing something like this and Yee Loon does it well.

And here’s one last one, for now.  Fresh, enthusiastic, inspiring.  A young couple, traveling the world, had an incredible experience at the Nine Emperor Gods festival in Ampang.  Check out the post on their blog to see how much fun they had with red turtles.  Given the enthusiasm for exploring, it’s easy to think that they have many more rewarding adventures ahead.  Just another reason to love the Nine Emperor Gods festival.  And I love this because they had a look at my blog before they visited the festival and thanked me for the information!  Rewarding.

New Nine (4) Trances and Pierces Penang-Style

As one moves north in Malaysia, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival becomes synonymous with the antics of mediums possessed by the Chinese gods.  Many of you will think of Phuket, Thailand, where the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is known as the Vegetarian Festival, famous for the bicycle-through-the-cheek stunt.  It’s all quite sensational and although I respect its traditional roots, it is not my favourite part of the festival.  However, a blog about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Penang would not be complete without showing the experience of this ritual.  At Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St., the 12 ft long skewers hang on the wall of the temple throughout the year and are taken down on the Ninth Day and readied for who ever might show up that night. 1. A volunteer sharpens the point of the skewer in preparation for the ritual piercings.  The temple is very careful to ensure that the instruments are sharp and clean so as not to hurt the mediums.  After sharpening, the skewers are cleansed with oranges and Chinese tea.2. A medium arrived at the front of the temple and went into trance with an uplift motion that actually made his hair stand on end!  At this point on the Ninth Night, the crowds outside the temple were huge – thousands of onlookers, hundreds with cameras, and the press of people was concerning.  I had a good spot, thanks to my friends at the temple, but almost too close for comfort!3. There is one man in the family who has the job of piercing.  He learned from his father, who was a skilled piercer, and is passing the tradition on to his son.  Very intense work.  There were about 12 piercings on the ninth night.  He blows water on to the cheek of the medium at the exact moment that he pushes the skewer through.  The water is the only lubricant used.  It’s a matter of community spirit, as you can see from the faces of the men behind.4. There is no blood involved when the skewer goes through. That’s part of the mystique.  I sense some discomfort, but the mediums tell me that they feel no pain, just revelation.5. When the 12 ft skewer is properly placed, the mediums bow three times to the Emperor in the temple and then walk carefully sideways through the crowd out to the procession route.6. The mediums seem to be fine, despite the appendages, and most manage to perform for the crowds by scraping the ends of the skewers on the pavement while they spin.  Some can produce sparks.7. Here are the gods looking very regal and keeping very still as they move along the procession route while seated on the chair of swords – well one is seated and the medium on top stands on the swords.  This float is the highlight of the procession to the jetty.
8. When the procession reaches the jetty, the skewers are removed, again with the help of water.  A piece of joss paper is used to cover the hole in the cheek.  Little or no bleeding.  I’ve heard that they are protected by their vegetarian fast and “clean” living during the festival. 9. It may be hard for some of you to believe, but these acts of self mutilation are not repulsive.  They are a way of worship (not one that I would embrace!) and show respect for the Emperor within the pantheon of Chinese Gods.  As this photo shows, there are, within this ritual, moments of peaceful reflection amidst the chaos.

New Nine (3) The Procession on the Ninth Night

The moon is almost full!  How fast this ninth month is going by. I have a lot of photos to share but it is taking some time to go through them and choose.  It’s a fun exercise to limit a topic to Nine.

We had an excellent send off for the Emperor, last Wednesday evening.  The energy was high, the rains held off and there was a great sense of community spirit.  For this Top Nine, I’ve chosen some photos of the procession from Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St to the Yeoh Jetty.  There were a lot of other things going on as you will see in the next few posts.

1. The crowds began building about 7pm and quietly, the gods were called, and the Pathway of Safekeeping (peng onn) was opened for all to pass through.

2. The boats were moved out, ceremoniously, to the street.  This boat would be burned later out on the sea.

3. Devotees knelt in front of the temple with their joss sticks, while the fireworks filled the skies behind.  This is the moment when the urns are about to be carried from behind the yellow curtain and placed on the float.

4. The mediums were lifted on to the float and the devotees pulled the float through the streets with huge ropes, the full 2 km to the sea.

5. Temple Committee members led the way.  They were more enthusiastic than they appear here!

6. Nine Drummers Druming – well, I was hoping for that!  These are the new drums that we saw consecrated the night before, especially for the send-off.

7. At some of the major intersections the participating temples would show off a bit – these young men were running through fire while carrying the god in a heavy wooden chair.

8. Here’s the Hong Kong St temple taking Tow Pek Gong for a spin.

9. The streets were very crowded for most of the route and as we approached the jetty it got quite raucous with expectation.

More on trances and piercings, and the boat burning in the next posts!

New Nine (2) from the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Penang, 2011

1. A woman prays to the Emperor while holding paper figures representing her family.  I think this is a Penang idea.  Am I correct?

2. Guan, calling the god to help prepare the talismans.  A short while later, a medium, in trance, was drawing blood from his tongue with a large, sharp sword.

3. Some young people from the temple pose for a photo before heading out to pay their respects to several of the nearby Nine Emperor God temples.

4. I gave my blog address card to some people on the Chew Jetty.  When I went back there a couple of days later, I found my card on the bulletin board, along with the calendar of events for the festival!  Thank you.

5. Uncle Poh Hong has a chat with his friend, before the priests begin the evening prayers on the 6th day.

6. This Taoists priest posed graciously for a photo at the end of the the ritual prayers.  He has been coming to the Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St temple for many years.

7. “And the winner is…”  Choosing the person who will become the caretaker of the Nine flags of the temple until next year’s festival.

8. A priest enters the inner sanctuary where the Emperor is in residence, as part of a ritual on the evening of the 6th day.  The sanctuary is very private and only a selected number of temple members are allowed to enter.  Even having the curtains open slightly, like this, is a rare occurrence during the festival

9. This is the end of the Yeoh Jetty. Hmmmm.  This is jetty from which the Hong Kong St boats leave at midnight on the Ninth day.  Should be an interesting walk in the dark, even if the tide is out!  I am presuming though that the Emperor will provide for the devoted.

Top Nine (1) from the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Penang

It’s busy and getting busier. So, in the temporary quiet of Monday and the 7th Day, here are some shots from Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St. that you haven’t seen yet.  I had visions of creatively posting by theme, but if I don’t just put these here, you may never see them!

These aren’t in any particular order, but I will start with nine here, go through yesterday’s photos and then post a second nine before heading back to Penang for the grand final days of the festival.  The first one, above, shows the attention and care that go in to making the tiny rice bowls offered at the altars each day.

2. Polishing the brass for the altar of Tow Pek Gong, God of Prosperity (Day 1)

3. Some of the team members before the prayers on the eve of Day 3

4. Included so that Matt believes me that I should be outside for twilight!

5. A young man anxiously seeks advice of the deity through the medium

6. The Aunties in the kitchen are always cooking up something tasty, but this is time to cook special sweet potatoes for offerings at the evening prayers.

7. For many years, this family has had a stall on Lebuh Cintra, selling yummy vegetarian snacks and proudly flying the yellow banner.

8. The priest chants outside the temple on invitation night.

9. Sorting through the talismans just blessed with drops of blood from the medium in trance.

First Day at Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St, Penang

It was a quiet day at the temple with devotees coming in for private conversations with the Emperor. We had a visit from the Tow Boh Keong temple in Sungai Petani and they posed for a photo before leaving to visit other temples in the area. In the evening the lamp went up again, this time to clear skies.

Balancing in the Final Two Days of Nine Emperor Gods Festival

The week has gone by so quickly!  Here we are with only two days remaining in the festival.  It’s an interesting time to be at the temple – the energy is high and there’s a lot to do, but a sense of peacefulness has settled over the grounds.  The days have a rhythm, prayers are humble and commerce is good.  Tradition has been upheld and is strong in its past and hopeful in its future.  I was there last night and it felt balanced – just as it is supposed to.  Shadow and Light, Yin and Yang…

We are waiting for the usual rain, adding an element of expectancy to the atmosphere and the photographers are enjoying the special light that comes with clear skies.Tonight – Oct 15th 7pm – Bridge Crossing.  Tomorrow – Oct 16th evening – Firewalking.  Yin and Yang coming in to balance as we send off the Emperor.  Much will happen in the balancing act. Come and enjoy the energy and be open to the possibilities.


Yellow is the colour of sunshine.  And, more importantly for us here, it is the colour of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  Yellow is the oldest sacred colour of China and therefore appropriate for a ritual festival, steeped in secrets and mystery, to have a colour so associated with ancient traditions and beliefs.

The first Emperor of China was known as the Yellow Emperor and it is
said that a yellow dragon appeared on this death to guide him to
heaven.  There are yellow dragons in the most wonderful locations in the
Nine Emperor Gods temple in Ampang, placed to guard the worshipers.

Yellow is the center of the 5 directional points.  The temple, at the center of the grounds is therefore yellow, while the corners are represented by White (west), Red (south), Green (east) and Black (north)  In the five colors of the elements, Yellow represents the Earth.  According to Taoist tradition, Yellow generates Yin and Yang and is therefore the color of everything.  For a festival charged with balancing Yin and Yang, the use of Yellow is unquestionably the perfect choice.

There are other factors as well.  Yellow is also the color of status and power and is thought to bring the energy of fire.  In Chinese the concept of the Yellow Earth ties the color Yellow to the practice of farming and agrarian traditions.

In Buddhism, yellow represents freedom from worldly cares and according to Feng Shui principles, yellow is thought to increase self-esteem and strengthen health and well-being.  At the Nine Emperor Gods temple, yellow is used in many shades, from orange-yellow to gold to lemon yellow and everything in between.



Hokkien Puppets at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang

Not knowing too much about Hokkien puppets, I will resort to the “picture is worth a thousand words” concept and show some photos from yesterday. These are Hokkien string puppets.  There are also more traditional Hokkien hand puppet shows still being performed.  I understand that in Taiwan the puppet shows at some festivals are now animated – influenced by Japanese Anime.  Yikes.

The dialect in the performances at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang was all Hokkien.  These little guys are adorable.  The troupe is Singapore based, where I assume that they get a lot more business than here.   They also have a contact in Muar.  They gave me a card but unfortunately for me, it’s in Chinese, no Englishlah.   I saw Hokkien puppets at the Hungry Ghost Festival at the big Chinese temple in central Brickfields (Sum Kow Tong) and that troupe had been brought in from China.  You can see old puppets upstairs at that temple in a small altar.  I was also able to see a Hokkien hand puppet show at the Hungry Ghost Festival in Selayang.

It was very sweet yesterday to see the puppets taken to the altar to honor the gods before they performed.  It was possible to feel the life in them.

Kneeling before the altar in front of the Main Temple

These puppets are very photogenic and attracted the attention of more than one photographer!  If you are a photographer and reading this – share your photos by clicking on the “Leave A Comment” button below and then link in.  I see you at the festival and I know that you are taking a lot of interesting shots.

The stage is very makeshift and behind the scenes it’s a bit chaotic, as they eat and sleep in the space as well.  Despite our language issues, the troupe was very welcoming and introduced me to the puppets and asked me to photograph the altar at the back where one older puppet (the Chinese deity of the Arts – Shiang Kong) is suspended to watch the proceedings.  There are three puppeteers and two musicians in this troupe.

The View from the Stage Altar

Last evening there was a pretty big crowd (for a Tuesday night!) and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I only stood here for a moment, as I was a curious distraction for some.

I hope that you can get there today to see the show.  Be sure to take a peek back stage and say hello before the show.  Performances at 2pm and 8pm again today, October 6, 2010.

Guarding the temple Guardians

Here’s a look at the new doors on the main sanctuary of the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang.  The Taoist flags have been arranged there to indicate that it isn’t yet time to open the doors.   That is for the Emperor to decide.   Hopefully, he stays with the plan and the doors will be ceremoniously opened on Monday (Oct4) night/early Tuesday (Oct5) morning when the Emperor and the other gods are returned to the temple.