Tag Archives: Nine Emperor Gods Festival

It’s that time again!!

The evening of September 23rd marks the start of the Nine Emperor Gods festival 2014. I have moved all of the new posts about this festival to my website, so you will have to click on www.cheryljhoffmann.com to see what we are up to this year! http://cheryljhoffmann.com/category/9emperor/

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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.

Awesome Johor Send Off for the Emperor

Nine has always been my number… In Johor, the Emperor who came to the temple this year was brother number Nine, You Bi Da Dao Xing Jun. He is the ninth star of the Big Dipper and one of the two stars invisible to the naked eye.  According to the Sifu, this is the first visit ever for this brother to Sam Siang Keng. So that was the pull for me to be there, I suspect.  The lure of the Invisible Nine.

See my earlier post on visiting Sam Siang Keng on the 2nd day of the festival for background on the festival as celebrated at this Johor Bahru temple.

Day Nine at Sam Siang Keng in Johor was an awesome experience for me.  The place is gentle. The Emperor is revered patiently and lovingly, the way a mother loves a son. I couldn’t help but compare it to the exhilarating chaos of Ampang, and the high-spirited way the Emperor is sent off with noisy, crowded ceremony and thousands of burning joss sticks.  At Sam Siang Keng it was calm in comparison, like someone said OMmmm over the proceedings before they happened.  There was time for reflection, both personal and communal and that was what made it so enjoyable.  Must be the Goddess of Mercy influence.

To say it was calm does not mean that the day lacked colour and action.  Not at all.  I have photos galore. With this post, I will give you an overview of the day, highlighting the important moments. Notice that all of these activities took place in the daylight.  It is interesting to be able to see what is happening and to be openly invited to join in each and every activity.

Upon arriving at about 10am, I joined the procession of devotees to cross the bridge. I know it looks like an all men activity from this photo but everyone was invited to cross the water and be cleansed.  Each person crossing is waved at 7 times with joss paper.  Here is my view as I was crossing with the temple member waving at me and the photographers documenting the moment.  The tall foreign lady was a novelty at first, but it didn’t take long until the photographers were more concerned with keeping me out of their photos!

The lovely and kind Sifu, Wee Ah Moi, was there overseeing the proceedings and she gave me a warm welcome when I returned.  Later on she gave me two lollipops – but we can save that story for another post!  What a charming woman and so loved by her community.

When the opera troupe came to the altar to perform, it was quite dramatic!  Actors from China, I understand.  I’ll try to find out more about this.

After the opera, there was an hour in which the public was invited to share in the temple talismans.  The talismans were removed from the mediums chair where they had been for 9 days under the protection of the Duomo.  Devotees were invited to take their turns (in very orderly fashion) asking the god for a talisman. If their toss of the pui-pui came up as a positive (yin/yang), they were given a talisman, said to be very powerful in curing sickness.

During this time, the altar of the Emperor was very peaceful.  Here one man found time and space to have a conversation.

At about 2:30, the boat was taken out into the courtyard in front to the temple. There was time for a photo or two before the serious business of sending off the Emperor began.

When the urn was removed from behind the curtain, the sifu, in trance, sang a beautiful lament as farewell to her Emperor son. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  It was for me, the ultimate in romanticization of the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

As I commented in my earlier post, this Sifu is in her 80’s and is still guiding the temple through the Nine Emperor Gods festival, as she has for decades.  The small microphone is used now so that all the devotees, inside and outside the temple, can hear the words of the goddess Duomo as she says good bye and thanks her son for visiting.  To the banging of firecrackers to ward off any danger, the Duomo followed the urn outside where it was placed in the chariot and the procession began its journey to the sea.

We rode buses to Danga Bay.  I presume that is modern technology at its convenient best, just as Ampang Kow Ong Yah now uses the truck to go to the river. Everyone used to walk.  In this case, devotees are invited to the sea for the send off, many riding buses provided by the temple.  When we arrived, the yellow boat was in the sea, and the dragon, the lions and hundreds of devotees were there to pay their respects.  The urn was removed from its chariot and placed in the boat.

Once away from shore, the boat was set alight. Unlike in Penang where the yellow boat is circled three times and then left on its own, the boat here is watched carefully until it is completely submerged and no debris is left floating in the water.  I suppose there is fear of setting fire to Singapore and causing an international incident!

As the sun got lower in the sky, we watched the Emperor’s boat slowing burn away in to the water.  Yin and Yang, Water and Fire, the world in balance once again.  I have a lot more stories.  In closing – one more photo.  I am humbled by this woman’s wisdom, vision and guidance.  Thank you and God bless you too!

Of course, I can’t wait for next year already!!  So I will keep posting to make the time go faster.  Check in now and then for updates.  I’ve got stories of lollipops and more…  Cheryl

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

Schedule for Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2012 in Ampang

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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.

This blog has been moved to my website

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Thank you for all the support and I look forward to seeing you on the website and at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2012 in Ampang.

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!

Schedule and Procession Route for Ninth Day at Hong Kong St Tow Boh Keong

Here is what I have heard the schedule is like for the Ninth Day, October 6th.

There will be quiet prayers to the Emperor tonight, Day 8, with special offerings of fruit and food that the Aunties are preparing right now.

Tomorrow (Day 9) the day will be busy with preparations for the evening rituals – cleaning and sharpening the swords and skewers that the mediums will use, moving the float out to the middle of the street, building the Passageway of Safekeeping.  Many devotees will come to Hong Kong St to pay their respects to the Emperor and pray for the health and prosperity of their families.At about 7pm, the Passage of Safekeeping will be ready in front of the temple and devotees will be invited to cross through the doors, as a cleansing ritual.  At about this time, the god (most likely Tiong Tua Guan Suai) will be invited to the temple and, all going well, the other gods will follow.  At this point (8pm?), the mediums from other temples will start arriving and pay their respects to the Emperor, before entering trance and calling the gods.  We can expect somewhere around 15 mediums at Hong Kong St temple.At the same time, floats from other temples in the area begin assembling on Lebuh Chulia, at the end of Hong Kong St for the procession.  These are non-Nine Emperor God temples that are showing their respect and support for Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St.  At latest count there are 18 temples joining the procession.

At 10pm the procession will start to move.  It takes about an hour and a half for the procession to follow the 2.5 km route and arrive at the Yeoh Jetty.  Here is the route:Hong Kong St (also known as Jln Cheong Fatt Tze) to Lebuh Carnarvon, where they make a big u-turn and come back past the temple.  Then they turn left of Lebuh Dr Lim Chwee Long for a short distance.  The next turn is left onto Lebuh Pantai, for a few blocks, then right on Gat Lebuh Chulia, then right on Pengkalan Weld and along to Yeoh Jetty.

The Tow Boh Keong banner and the VIPs will lead the procession, followed by the participating temples, and finishing with the Tow Boh Keong contributions, including Tow Pek Gong, the ceremonial boat, the yellow boat and the large float carrying the urn of the Emperor.

Things to watch for:

On Lebuh Carnarvon, there will be a time when the procession is on both sides of the street – double the excitement!

At the intersection of Lebuh Dr LChL, there is potential to intersect with the procession of the McCallum Rd temple as they head down to the jetty.

Along Lebuh Pantai there will be altars set up by families and businesses along the sides of the road and the mediums often pause there.  As we cross Lebuh Melayu a medium from the temple comes out to pay respects to the Emperor and the other gods as they pass.

As the procession turns on to Pengkalan Weld from Gat Lebuh Chulia there is the potential to meet the procession from the Burma Rd temple as they move to the jetty.

It has been suggested that the  Monkey god could help us be everywhere and do everything as he can split and become many – a whole army in fact!  Good guy to know.

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.

Visits to Jelutong and Noordin St Nine Emperor God Temples

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.