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