Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Blogging from my Website!

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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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: http://rahmanroslan.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/nine-emperor-gods/

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.

Oct 22 (Day 8 Bridge Crossing) and Oct 23 (Day 9 Firewalking) at Kow Ong Yah Ampang

If you thought Day 6 rocked at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang, hold on to your hat as we head in to Day 8 and Day 9.  The next two days are all about bringing the cosmos back into balance through special ceremonies.

You might want to look at this post on my website instead.  If so, find it here: cheryljhoffmann.com

Check the schedule in the side bar for start times.  Photographers should come early.  These are photos that I took in 2010 of the festivities in Ampang.  They will give you an idea of what you will see there during the last two days of the festival.

DAY 8 – Bridge Crossing.  See my post from two years ago about Day 8. On Day 8 (Monday Oct 22) the bridge walking ceremony starts at 8pm – a time when the community can participate in a ritual of cleansing and blessing.  It is the day of bringing “yin”, our watery side, into balance.  Kow Ong Yah sits at the end of the bridge on a chair of nails and blesses the devotees as they cross.  I love this event, because Kow Ong Yah wears his beautiful yellow robes and  his hat with the long pheasant feathers and it looks really awesome.  It’s a great time, because everyone gets to participate, unlike the fire-walking that is restricted to men only, and then only some men as well.

Here is what it will look like this afternoon with the vendors moved out from in front of the temple:

If we are blessed with a clear sky tonight, photographers should watch for the lovely combination colours and silhouettes.

Tonight everyone can cross the bridge, even those who haven’t kept a strict vegetarian diet.  Don’t be shy!  It brings luck if you cross.  The mediums go first and bless the way.

DAY 9 A day of inspecting the grounds, feeding the army, Firewalking, and the glorious send-off procession. Today is about “Yang”, about balance and about the mediums acting on behalf of the community.  The gods show up and the day is action packed and packed with visitors.  See my post from 2010 on Day 9 at Kow Ong Yah in Ampang.

Preparation of the fire pit starts early.

The mediums are in full swing all day!  Here is Kow Ong Yah proving his worth.  I love this photo for the guys in the background, as well as for the energy! 

If you come early, you can watch the preparation of the fire pit. The area is fenced to keep people back as it gives off a lot of heat in the early stages of burning.

Sorry, no female photographers allowed inside the fence.  And also it takes press credentials to get inside for the fiery close ups.

Never mind though.  If you are inside the fence, you don’t get to photograph all that goes on outside the fence ie – the feathers again!

As I once heard Joe McNally say – Don’t complain about lack of access.  Make it work.  Be grateful for being there and the opportunity to make images. Of course he said it with a story and much more poetically!  From outside the fence, I shot this, and many more, in 2010. 

The festival quiets down a bit after the firewalking and the crowds disperse.  But a lot still happens after that and into the wee hours of the morning.  The opera troupe comes to perform important rituals at the altar in front of the temple at about midnight.

If you are really keen (and you should be!) stay around for the procession to send the Emperor back to the heavens.  It leaves the temple at about 2am.  Despite the late hour, this procession is attended by thousands and is RELA’s last chance of the festival to boss us around!

Everyone is pretty tired at the end of the nine days but the send off is a joyous celebration of blessings received, as the Emperor heads off into the night to return to the heavens.

I hope to see you there to share in all of the excitement!  Cheryl

Day 6 Rocks Ampang

From Kow Ong Yah swinging his sword about on the Opera stage to rituals of thanksgiving and dormitories full of loving friends, Day 6 at Kow Ong Yah temple in Ampang was a real feast for the senses.  There were gongs and fires and whistles and smoke.  There were traffic jams and lines for food.  A friend asked me the other day what I do in Ampang when I visit.  Well, yesterday was a great example of just how enriched my life is by this festival.  I chased the mediums through the temple grounds and tried to photograph birds being released to the heavens.  I talked to devotees and shot some portraits. I was inspired and challenged and exhausted and loved every minute of it.  I also liaised with many photographers and encouraged them to send me links to their photos.  We know that there are many ways to shoot this festival and all of you are welcome to post links to your own work here.  We can use this as a community portal – a digital version of the festival lantern pole that reaches to the skies.

So here are a few photos from yesterday.  There are many more I could share but will save them for a quieter day.

Let’s start with food.  Not only did the ladies in the kitchen prepare 3 meals for the hundreds of devotees at the temple, they also prepared 100 buckets of food to ceremonially feed the armies of the generals that protect the festival grounds.  The woks were full all day.

Members of the committee also chipped in.  Here my good friend Koh Ping and Mr Low Ching Poh help to serve food to devotees in the early morning.

Later in the day, I was treated to a delicious bowl of noodles mixed with some yummy black vinegar.

Is that enough about food?  But let’s not forget that other Malaysian passion – shopping!  

There was all that and more, including some important rituals throughout the day.  The mediums got started at the main altar with a show of strength and control.  The gods had arrived to inspect and protect the festival.

Kow Ong Yah made his way throughout the whole grounds, visiting the four corners, the altars, the kitchens and the dormitories.

 

This is an exciting time for the devotees who get to pay their personal respects to the Emperor and also receive his blessing. 

It didn’t rain all day in Ampang although we could hear the thunder booming.  The evening sky was as glorious as the colours of the festival. 

In one particularly joyous moment, members of the opera troupe brought their baby god to the main altar so that it could be part of the ritual ceremony of the evening.  

On the evenings of  days 3, 6 and 9, special prayer items are passed, person to person, from altar to altar in a ceremony that I like to call “the round and round”.  

As the crowds came back in to the temple after the ceremony, joss sticks and smoke filled the space, bringing tears to our eyes.  Meanwhile, the medium offered believers the advice of the god.

Late in to the night, crowds gathered to watch the opera performance.

It was quite a show of glitz and glamour!

And with that, I headed out in to the massive traffic jam, and drove the wrong way along the road marked “laluan sehala” just for the fun of it.  I could barely pull myself away.  Headed back up there now for more!

Kau Ong Yah pays a visit to Ampang last May!


A few months ago the Kau Ong Yah Lam Thian Kiong Temple of Ampang held a 20 Km radius Ancestor and Thanksgiving ritual. It was a beautiful ceremony over several days in which the temple fulfilled its obligations to the Lost Souls roaming about the Ampang area. The festivities were complete with a special visit by Kau Ong Yah, resplendent paper mansions and a huge burning. Here are some of my photos.  This was just one way that the temple is preparing for this year’s Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

Goddess of Mercy

Homes for the Lost Souls – with all the luxuries!

The heavens participated one evening with a great lighting show.

Koh Ong Yah was in residence during the ceremonies

Paper Gods carried to the open lot for burning

Some familiar faces around to help out

It all made for a huge symbolic fire.

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!

The Yellow Curtain

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.