What to Expect on the 6th Day, October 20th

Let’s start by hoping for some blue sky for a little contrast!Saturday, October 20th is the 6th day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  In Ampang at 2pm, the mediums will invite the gods to the temple to help perform the ritual ceremony of feeding the armies of the generals that are protecting the camp.  Buckets of food are prepared and presented, while hundreds of devotees watch over the proceedings.  Then Kow Ong Yah will inspect the grounds, starting with the 4 corners.  He will then make his rounds through the dormitories to the joy of the women staying there.

Here are a few photos from a couple of years ago, when I was there.

And here are two photos that I found while looking for these of Day 6.  Because they brought a smile to my heart, I wanted to share.


Nine Emperors in Johor Bahru

Words come easily to describe the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Sam Siang Keng temple in Johor Bahru.  It is a place of gentle kindness and warm hospitality.  It is above all a feminine place, where the Goddess of Mercy reigns and women are her conduits into the community.  I was impressed with the simpleness and openness of the festival here.  There is no mention of secrets and mysteries.  They don’t even hold their special events at night.  It all takes place during the daylight hours!  It is well organized and visitors feel at home and comfortable in their prayers.  I was met by a whole team of volunteers who cheerfully showed me around, shared stories and photographs and answered my many questions.  Every five years a delegation from this temple goes to the temple in Ampang and brings back ash from the Emperor’s urn to JB.   Check out their Facebook page.

As many already know, the priestess of the temple is Wee Ah Moi, who is now in her eighties.   Her diety is Miaoshan who comes to her to help people who are suffering.   Her smile and gentle manner are magnetic.  I feel so fortunate to have met her and to have been graced by her calm presence.  Her mother was also a medium at this temple and it was when Ah Moi was 18 that she was chosen by the goddess to serve the community through her special abilities.

All those around her are nourished by her strength.  The people I met at Sam Siang Keng exemplify the kindness and compassion that are at the heart of both Guan Yin and Wee Ah Moi.  The priestess goes in to trance each afternoon during the Nine Emperor Gods festival, offering help to those in need of guidance and encouragement.

So, what did I see at Sam Siang Keng that caught my attention?  Well, the most exciting thing for me were the statues of the Nine Emperors that grace the main altar.  I was told that they are new this year!  It is so wonderful to see them represented and when it is quieter there I will go back and photograph them individually and learn about the qualities of each one.  I was also told that each year a different emperor brother comes to the temple for the festival.  According to the priestess, this year it is the Ninth brother who is there.  Here is the main altar.  Ninth brother is on the far left.

The Jade Emperor is in the middle at the back.  The Duomo sits in front of him.  The large statues at the back on the left and right are the dieties of the sun and the moon.  No yellow curtain in JB.  It’s all there for those to see.  The old, symbolic urn with the pomegranate leaves, that represents the Duomo is also in the open.  It sits outside the temple in a special place where she can watch over the boat that will transport her emperor son back to the heavens.

Notice the yellow flag in the hand of the man praying.  Here is a photo of people praying at the main altar. Because it is a Guan Yin temple, only those who do not eat any beef, ever, are allowed to kneel before the gods and ask for a flag. Only those granted a positive answer from the gods are given a flag.

So many things are done at the temple in a special way.

Here is the bridge of cleansing that sits at the temple entrance for the whole 9 days of the festival.  

People cross it and paper money is waved over them as they cross.

Of course yellow is important here too.  Here a man in the office notes donations of packets of rice and spices that will go in to the boat with the Emperor when he returns on the last day.  And below, a team makes the ribbon flowers and attaches them to the chairs that will hold the statues of the Nine Emperors and the Duomo during the procession on Saturday, Oct 20.

As I mentioned earlier, the special events during the festival at Sam Siang Keng take place during the day.  Wee Ah Moi goes in to trance in the afternoons.  The procession will take place on Saturday at noon and the return of the Emperor to the sea happens at 3pm on the last day, and not at night as is the usual in other temples.

One of my favourite things about Sam Siang Keng is an altar that doesn’t have too much to do with the Nine Emperors, but has always interested me.  This is the altar to the Datuk – that very Malaysian of Chinese dieties.  In this case, they worship Datuk Awang and his sister who sits beside him.  This is quite awesome and makes me want to photograph Datuk shrines all over Malaysia and do a book about them!

My visit to Sam Siang Keng was so pleasant because of my hosts there.  They sat with me and told me their stories, they showed me around the temple and blessed me with food and a coveted temple shirt, as well as a book on the history of the temple.  I will be back as soon as I can.  Maybe for the send off on Tuesday!

Sharing the fun and the blogs and the photo tips!

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/nineemperorgodsfestival2012

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.


Nine Reasons for Loving the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets a little rush of adrenalin when the flags go up along Jln Ampang to mark the route to the Kow Ong Yah temple.  The ninth lunar month is here and at Kow Ong Yah temple around Malaysia, people are happily going about the business of bringing their worlds in to balance.  They greet each other with big smiles, and share a contagious joy and anticipation for the 9 days ahead.  I started thinking about why we love this festival so much and came up with (of course) Nine reasons.  So, using some photos, old and new, here are Nine Reasons for Loving the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  This post is also available for viewing on my website: cheryljhoffmann.com

1. Childhood Memories

The festival is a wonder to a child’s eyes – bright lights, colors, tempting sweets – and the reassuring hand of a grandparent guiding the way to prayers. That hasn’t changed much at all, over the generations.  I hear stories that so often begin with “When I was young I came here with my grandmother.” or  “My family has been coming here since before I was born.” or “Meet my son/daughter!”   I see people giving each other big hugs and firm handshakes when they arrive at the temple, friends from years of sharing the festival together.  The traditions of the festival are strong and the rituals repeat themselves year after year. You can count on the Emperor coming down from the heavens to sit behind the yellow curtain. You can count on prayers three times a day.  You can count on smoking joss sticks.  You can count on the sparkle of the Chinese opera and lollipops and stinky tofu.  All this, and more, makes the festival so memorable, something we want to continue to share with family and friends for years to come.

2. Shared Belief

It’s hard to feel alone at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  Everywhere there is a celebration of common belief. Whether it is in the ritual prayers, the white clothing, the sea of hands placing joss sticks in urns of rice, belief in the power of the festival unites us.  We are supported by family and friends, who share places to eat and sleep. We are supported by a working committee that strives diligently to maintain tradition and routine.  At the festival, we feel part of something bigger.

3. It’s a Mystery

There are many variations to the story about the Nine Emperors, who they were and how and why they became gods.  During the festival no one questions their existence. They remain the recognized power.  We call the gods from the heavens and direct them back under the cover of night, at a secret, watery location deep in the forest.  For nine days, the Emperor  holds court from behind the yellow curtain, unseen, but ever present.  It is the idea of the Emperor that we love.

4. Yellow

This is my personal favourite.  I love the grandness of yellow.  I love how it looks with white.  Two years ago, I posted about the significance of Yellow here.

5. Abundance

Okay – it’s a Chinese festival.  So what we love about it has to have something to do with money.  Did you know that you can borrow money from the temple and pay it back (double) the next year?  Did you know that there are special prayers for prosperity?  And there are even more special prayers of Thanksgiving – that you can pay for!  It’s all about money  in the end. Everyone pays and gets paid. See my post on the beggars who also do well during the festival.   When the rain comes to the festival it is said that it brings the money. Just ask Annie who sells lottery tickets at the door to the temple.  Which brings us right to reason 6.

6a. Fortune Tellers

Speaking of money – these guys  really know how to interpret the cards you have been dealt. There are all different kinds of fortune tellers at the festival, with various means of predicting your future.  Give them your fortune poem for interpretation.  Ask them to help you decide who to marry and when.  Come to them with an open heart and they will advise you how to proceed.  We all love a little guidance now and then and at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, guidance is in abundance.

6b. Mediums

We love the mediums who are willing to absorb the awe inspiring and sometimes unpleasant power of the gods for us.  We love how they create talismans to protect us.  We love when they share with us and answer our questions in the language of the gods.  And I love the way they transform themselves from ordinary human beings into conduits to the heavens and perform feats of strength and sacrifice.  All on behalf of the community – and of course the ang pow.

7. Vegetarianism

We love the way we are asked to sacrifice our cravings for flesh.  And when the food offerings show up looking sumptuous, we do it glady.  The kitchen staff and the food vendors at the festival fill our souls with mouth watering vegetarian delights – from rich and chewy black mushrooms to Stinky Taiwanese tofu to sugary bits on sticks.

8. Amoy Opera

Every day of the festival the opera troupe performs twice – at 2pm and 8pm.  On the ninth day they dance at the altar of the Jade Emperor, asking for the blessings of the gods of the heavens  and the underworld.  We love the colours and the clangy, dissonnent tones of instruments and voices, and  the way the pavement in front of the stage lights up when it rains.  We love how the older devotees sit for hours to watch and laugh and sing along sometimes.  And photographers love to be welcomed back stage!

9. Balance

The positive energy that comes from time at the festival is something that we look forward to each year.  People come from all over Malaysia to Ampang for the power that is evoked there.  The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is designed to balance Yin and Yang. Everything that happens that has the ultimate goal of asking the gods to bring balance to the forces of good and evil in our lives.  Opera singers perform, fortunes are predicted, devotees cross the bridge, protectors walk on fire, old women pray and the children smile.  It’s all part of a day at the festival. And we do love it…  So, come one, come all.  Let’s enjoy the next 9 days.

An Evening’s Invitation – and lots of photos

If you are a photographer, you need to be here!  If you love color, you need to be here! If, like me, you love high energy and friendly crowds and just plain fun, you need to be here! Don’t just take my word for it.  Check out Sean Liew’s blog for great photos and entertaining comments on yesterday at Kow Ong Yah Ampang.  I handed out a lot of cards yesterday to a lot of photographers and asked them to post their photos and send me a link.  Let’s share the joy of this festival.

I hope that you enjoy these selected images from last night when the festivities got underway with the grand procession to invite the Emperor to the temple.The excitement started building at about 5:30pm with the arrival of the dragons and lions.

Then the temple gods went for a ride in their beautiful sedan chairs accompanied by cheers and shouts to encourage Prosperity and Good Health.

Thousands of people joined the procession through Pekan Ampang.

On the banks of the Klang River, the Emperor was invited from the Heavens and escorted securely through the night back to the temple.

The fantastic glow of flourescent light!

The devotees prostrated themselves upon the arrival of the Emperor.

Fireworks seen through the feathers atop the monkey god’s head.

Mediums announced the arrival of the Emperor with unselfish acts of strength.

The umbrella was guided gently into the temple.

The devotees broke through the RELA line, impatient to be the first to pray to the Emperor.

Meanwhile, the Amoy opera got started across the street.  Monday evening will be their first full-scale performance.

By midnight, many of the devotees had called it a day, rebuilding their energies for an early morning start.

The Beauty of the World

I took this shot this morning at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple.  The Swamiji from a neighbouring Hindu temple came to pay his respects.  Such a lovely moment.  Sorry no time to post more.  Lots going on up there and the procession preparations are underway.  The lantern pole is up and ready.  It took a while to get it balanced but the fact that it is now perfect bodes well for the next 9 days.

Super Sunday is Here!

Despite the heavy rain today, preparations continued for Sunday’s procession. The sedan chairs have been cleaned up and put on display.  The  lamp pole will go up at about 11AM, and by 6pm the participants in the parade will start lining up along Jln Merdeka by the temple.  The procession, led by the mediums and the priests, departs at about 8pm to pick up the Emperor, returning to the temple at about midnight.

The lovely marble urn of the Jade Emperor was placed outside the temple today and filled with rice, ready for offerings.Image

Getting Ready At Kow Ong Yah, Ampang

Sharing photos of the Nine Emperor Gods festival is one of the highlights of my year.  That may seem silly but it’s the truth.  So here we are again!  I hope that you enjoy the 2012 blog.  I invite you to contribute to our knowledge of the festival.  Leave a comment or a link to some of your stories and photos and I will post it.Such a treat to go to the temple today, meet old friends and be part of the quiet buzz of traditions.  The vendors and the devotees will start arriving tomorrow.

I was very pleased to see that they have finally covered the gaping hole in front of the opera house. Now of course we have to be careful that we don’t trip on it, but it is much less hazardous.  And the area is fenced off so the patrons will have a seating area.  I guess that the opera troupe will arrive tomorrow too.

The office was the beehive today .  Lists of responsibilities are posted on the wall and the management of donations of rice and oil has begun. 

It was good to see Mr Lim there, with his lanterns and his grandsons helping to carry them in.  For me it felt like we were really ready to go when then lanterns were hung.  See my post on Lim of the Lanterns in 2010.

There was already food preparation for this is Malaysia!  Don’t forget to keep vegetarian if you are coming to the festival!

Last but not least, the prayers have begun.  The altar is ready for the Emperor.  The place is so beautiful now, without all the smoke that comes with the festival.

The altar to the Five Generals boasts freshly painted horses… and the dragons and phoenixes on the rooftop wait expectantly.

Watch Sean’s view from above

Watch Sean’s blog for these great views from on high! http://up-your-toot.blogspot.com/

Schedule for Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2012 in Ampang


I have posted the latest schedule of events here:  http://cheryljhoffmann.com/category/9emperor/

The procession to pick up the Emperor is Sunday evening October 14th.  Come join the fun.