Tag Archives: 9 emperor gods

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If you are looking for information on the 2013 Nine Emperor Gods festival, please click HERE which will take you to the blog on my website.  See you there!

All the posts about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival can be found on my website.

All the posts about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival can be found on my website.

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*Sweet* in JB

How much fun can you have with lollipops?!?It was truly a sweet moment. I looked around and lollipops were everywhere.  “Photo Op!!”

A short while earlier, the temple Sifu, Wee Ah Moi, was in trance as the young disciple of Guan Yin, Siang Chai Yah.  She was laughing and telling jokes and behaving like a 7 yr old.  When she had talked for awhile, she smiled at me and held out her hand to me.  The whole room gasped!  She was giving me the first lollipop and, not only that, she was giving me TWO!  Very blessed was I.  I thanked her and tucked them away quickly – the not-so-secret stash of a lollipop lover.  I didn’t realize until later just how sweet that moment was.

Devotees were approaching her, hands extended, asking her questions and enjoying her company…but really asking for a lollipop!

Hmmmmm, Siang Chai Yah would say, “I wonder if I should give you this lollipop?

They do look good…  Should I save one for myself?

After awhile, Siang Chai Yah stood up and threw the sweets towards the excited crowd. No use spending time asking questions!  All they really want after all is a sweet!

Within a few minutes, the Sifu had come out of trance and the crowd dispersed and that’s when I noticed!  I walked in to the temple office and saw this:

and this:

So I stepped back outside the office to have a look around and shot this:

and this:

and this!

How much fun we were all having!  Then I remembered what I had tucked in to my bag.  I had already chewed a little corner off the first one when I thought to photograph it.

Thank you dear Sifu, for helping us all to enjoy the simple and sweeter things in life. 

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!

A Day of Preparations at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

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Saturday was the day that devotees could come to the Ampang temple and get their rooms and beds for this year’s festival dates. It was great to see some friends, observe the temple cleaned up and ready to go, and feel the energy as we get ready to invite the Emperor and his entourage on Monday night.

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There was quite a crowd gathered as the organizing committee worked hard to get the devotees their preferred spaces.

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Meanwhile, the vendors’ supplies were arriving and the mood was jovial.

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Here are members of the organizing committee and some volunteers discussing how it all happens, a little politics, and the value of a good cup of Chinese tea.

See you from the Hong Kong St Temple in Penang!

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.

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!

Yellow

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.

 

 

Water and Fire on Oct 15 and 16, 2010

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang is well underway – today is the 5th Day of the Ninth Moon.  Last evening the festival seemed quiet, but that is compared to the crowds and chaos of the weekend. It was still plenty smoky and there were special prayers all evening as well as a spirit medium in a state of possession who provided advice and answers to those who approached him to “ask for peace”.

On Day 6 (Wednesday Oct 13) there will be another ritual celebration to feed the soldiers of the Emperor at 2pm.  This was one moment at the scene on Day 3 during the same ceremony.

On Days 8 (Friday) and 9 (Saturday) we come to the community highlights of the festival.  Yin and Yang, Water and Fire, Finding Balance – that’s what these final ceremonies of the festival are about.  There will be a bridge crossing ceremony on Oct 15th that will help those worshiping the Nine Emperor Gods to rid themselves of the Yin forces in their lives.  Then the ultimate ritual of the festival takes place on October 16th when the forces of Yang are reaffirmed by the firewalking devotees carrying the deities, the chariots and other temple paraphenalia.  Being Friday and Saturday events this year, the crowds will be big.

You can read some info about the Yin and the Yang ceremonies on the Nine Facts blog that I did last week or keep reading here…

The Bridge Crossing ceremony symbolizes surmounting the forces of Yin (Water is high yin).  The ceremony takes place in front of the main temple.  The vendors, currently set up there, are moved out to make space for a wooden bridge  that is 6.5 meters long, 1 meter high and 1.2 meters wide.  The bridge is then decorated with flags and bouquets of yellow and white flowers.

Buckets of water and tiny oil lamps are placed under the bridge on top of ritual papers that protect the bridge from evil forces.  The 7 small lamps represent the 7 star deities that protect devotees and are worshiped in the Southern Altar.

The Trance Master, in a state of possession by the Emperor himself, sits at the end of the bridge on the chair of nails and as devotees walk over the bridge he beckons them to come forward and receive a blessing. 

The ceremony is open to everyone.  As devotees cross the bridge they receive a red stamp on their head scarves to indicate that they have crossed the bridge with the blessing of the Nine Emperors.  Some carry clothing and personal belongings of family members, that are also stamped, to bring good fortune for the year ahead to the whole family.

When all devotees have crossed the bridge, the Spirit Mediums cross ceremoniously to block any evil that might be trying to follow.  Here is a shot that I took last year that I just missed.  I’m going to be there again on Friday evening and I will nail it this time!  Remember that if you are trying to photograph this event, it all happens very fast.

Firewalking – That’s enough blogging for now – I will discuss the firewalking ceremony in my blog tomorrow.  I’m looking for links to some good photos so send me a link to what you have and I’ll include them in the post!

It Begs the Question

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?