Tag Archives: Taoism

The Emperor Has Been Received and No Opera Until Friday, Oct 8th

Taking the Gods for a Stroll!

Two very busy days and no time to post.  First thing to note is that there are no opera performances until Friday, Oct 8th.  Sorry about the misinformation.  The temple has substituted Hokkien Puppets at 2pm and 8pm on Tuesday (just finished) and Wednesday.  I was there today and the puppets had an audience and they were paying attention and laughing.  Charming troupe performing.  Try to catch it.

I expect that the festival will be very quiet until Friday.  That’s Ninth Month, First Day so it should gear up.  The buses will start arriving with the Singaporeans, and there is a procession on Saturday evening at 7pm to receive the Emperor’s Finance Minister.  When the word gets out about how beautiful the temple is and how the deities have been given a fresh sparkle, I expect that lots and lots of people will want to see it.  Think about how smokey it will be!

In the last couple of days, I have walked kilometers, chasing processions, camera on tripod.  I have a room in the dormitory at the temple so I’ve been sitting with my new roommates and listening to their stories, as well as taking some fun photos with them.  They are beginning to realize that I am around for awhile and that I probably won’t stop asking questions!  I have also met a lot of photographers at the festival.  It has been good getting reacquainted with people and also making some new photographer friends- even some who have read the blog!

I was wearing a white scarf yesterday, at my new roommates’ suggestion, and out of respect for the festival.  Also, the committee gave me an official T-shirt to help me along the procession route with the RELA guys.  So, apologies if I looked liked a crazy expat.  Don’t worry – I won’t be doing the trance/piercings at Thaipusam!

Lots of stories to tell and information to share.  Keep visiting!  More posts to come.  And if anyone is reading this, could you please let me know what the red looks like in the photos.  I desaturate it but looks bad on my monitor and I can’t tell what everyone else is seeing.  Thanks!

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October 4th Procession – TODAY!

Just a quick press for those of you looking for information about tonight’s Nine Emperor Gods Festival procession.

A map to the temple is on tv smith’s mycen blog which is linked in the left column on this page. Get there VERY early.  The procession will be staged all along Jalan Merdeka, south from the temple so don’t even try to park in those lots in the area if you arrive after 5pm.
The procession will be huge! More than 50 floats with 16 dragons and lots and lots of lion dance troupes.  All of the gods from the Nine Emperor Gods Temple will be paraded through the streets with drumming and excited crowds and too many smokey joss sticks. The procession will depart the temple at 7pm. I expect that by 5pm the lions and dragons will begin paying their respects to the Emperor so there will be some good photo ops in daylight at that time. The procession will take hours and hours as it winds through Ampang Jaya. Check out the map on the Two Processions blog I did earlier if you want to know the route and chase it.  When the Emperor and the other deities return, they will be placed in their newly renovated altars. You can expect this to happen about 2AM.
Get ready for a long, raucous and very enjoyable evening!  If you plan to photograph, be sure to bring lots of memory cards and a couple of extra batteries.

Here are a few photos I grabbed quickly from last night’s shoot.  If you have photos from last night that you can get into an online gallery, let me know and I’ll post a link.

The Photographers' Favorite Dragon

Street Scene, Pekan Ampang, Nine Emperor Gods Procession, Oct 3rd

Why I Love This Festival!

Guarding the temple Guardians

Here’s a look at the new doors on the main sanctuary of the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang.  The Taoist flags have been arranged there to indicate that it isn’t yet time to open the doors.   That is for the Emperor to decide.   Hopefully, he stays with the plan and the doors will be ceremoniously opened on Monday (Oct4) night/early Tuesday (Oct5) morning when the Emperor and the other gods are returned to the temple.

Festival Starts October 3rd!

Late afternoon at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple today was a flurry of last minute preparations.  The “Masters” were there, a few devotees were arriving, and there were quite a number of curious onlookers.  The flagpole goes up tomorrow, October 3rd and the procession to receive the Emperor starts at 7pm from the temple.

The three chariots being readied for the procession

Each chariot is adorned with 10 windings of strong, white ribbon on both sides.  I was told that this pattern has a secret significance that was apparently not going to be shared with the curious crowd gathered around.  I expect that its significance is mired in myth and it is likely, as well, that it provides much needed extra support to the chariot during the procession.  In fact, the chariots go in to a real shake, rattle and roll when the Gods are placed in them – a real crowd pleaser.  (Photos of that to come later)

The protective and secretive X pattern

Over at the opera house, the yellow curtains have been hung so that the Emperor can be placed there for one night.

The new statue of Tua Pek Gong has now been empowered and boasts the tiny red dots that indicate that it has been “opened”/blessed by a ceremonial act of a Taoist priest.  This statue was made in China and flown to KL in its own seat on the airplane – you can’t put a god in the cargo hold!

Dusk fell quickly and the workers were still preparing the chariots as I left the grounds.  You can see the flagpole on the left, in the photo below, ready for tomorrow’s raising ceremony.

The quiet of the scene tonight is like the calm before the storm.  I’ll try to take a photo from in front of the gate tomorrow to show you the difference 24 hrs makes.

Nine Emperors, Nine Days in the Ninth Lunar Month, Nine Facts

It dawned on me that I have jumped ahead in this blog, trying to talk about some of my own personal revelations, when I really should go back to basics.  The Nine Emperor Gods Festival celebrates the balance of yin and yang.  It is a complicated ritual, complete with the presence of unseen deities, eye-smarting incense, trances and Chinese opera.  It is a time of spiritual strengthening, personal sacrifice and the power of shared beliefs.  Add to that a colorful and noisy street party atmosphere and it is easy to understand the attraction.

Here are some embellished facts x NINE:

1) The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is celebrated on the first nine days of the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar.  In 2010 the dates are October 8 to October 16 in the western calendar.  Don’t forget though, that in Ampang the festival in 2010 begins on October 3rd to celebrate the renovations at the temple.

2) The Nine Emperor Gods are shrouded in myth and wherever you go, you will hear a variation on the story.  In general the Nine Emperor Gods are believed to be the nine sons of the Taoist Goddess of Heaven (Duomo) – the lovely one with nine arms, because what mother doesn’t need nine arms! 

Some even say that the emperors were born on the ninth day of the ninth month.  The number nine has special significance to the Chinese, being the penultimate single digit number and, although it’s not the number 8, it is a homophone to the word “everlasting” and is therefore auspicious. There are nine emperors, but they are worshiped as one.  This is a central tenet of the festival.  The Emperors are the guardians of health, wealth and prosperity and their descent to earth for nine days is a cause for prayer and celebration.

3) When worshiping, devotees should raise their palms three times, kneel three times and prostate three times, making nine movements that together represent the cosmos – Heaven, Earth and Hades

4) Worshipers and visitors at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple should be freshly bathed and wear clean, if not new, clothes.  Devotees who stay at the temple during the festival wear all white when they are praying and/or in the presence of the emperor.  They keep a strict vegetarian diet.  Only vegetarian food is served on the temple grounds.

5) The Bridge crossing ceremony symbolizes water or the concept of Yin.  The ceremony takes place on the eighth day of the festival, in the evening and is presided over by priests and Trance Masters.  All visitors to the temple may participate.  The ceremony allows participants to overcome the watery or Yin forces in their lives which are necessary but sometimes troubling.  In 2010, the Bridge crossing ceremony will take place in Ampang on October 15.

6) The Fire walking ceremony symbolizes just that, fire, or the concept of YangThe ceremony takes place on the final, ninth, evening of the festival.  Only men may participate in the fire walking and, in Ampang, only men who are devotees may walk the fire.  (Women don’t walk in the fire because they are considered  too watery.)  Those who walk accept the forces of Yang for all those attending.  This is the most spectacular event of the festival and attracts huge crowds.  The fire walking in 2010 will take place on October 16th.

7) Thousands of visitors come to the temple in Ampang every day.  It is really smokey from all the burning of joss sticks and paper money.  Worshipers make money donations to the temple as well.  There is a complex communal system forborrowing money from the temple, that can be used to start a new business or marriage or something along those lines.  The money can be borrowed but must be returned the next year from the profits made after the investment.  Serious business!

8: Reservations for spaces to sleep in the men’s and women’s dormitories must be made six months in advance.  For 70RM one gets a space on a long platform and three vegetarian meals a day.  Most of the women attend annually and stay in the same dorms each year, making it a bit like summer camp.  It is common to see mother/daughter/granddaughter combinations.  In 2010, with the extended dates of the festival, your payment gets you a full two weeks of accommodation and meals!

9) Chinese opera, in the Amoy style from Fujian province, is performed on a stage across the road from the main temple.  On the evening that the Emperor arrives, the first opera is performed upon his arrival and then every day at 2pm and 8pm throughout the festival.  The evening performance is more elaborate.  The same Singapore opera troupe has been performing in Ampang for 17 years.  Very few visitors stop to watch – the opera is really being performed for the Emperor.  Here’s a link to an old and beautiful recording of Amoy opera that might help you understand. http://hajimaji.wordpress.com/category/china/amoy-opera/

Heavenly Airport

On October 3, 2010, the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang will raise the 50 ft pole that will guide the spirits of the heavens to the temple for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  This is the official start of the festival.  The pole, known locally as Kor Ting, is erected in a small sanctuary on the right side (stage left) of the main temple.   At the top of the pole is a branch of bamboo and strung from that is a lantern, with nine lamps, and a banner that proclaims the name of the temple festival.  If you care to understand the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, visiting this altar is a good place to start.  I have heard this pole described as an airport – the passage way for all of those from heaven to come to the festival.

Nine lamps strung from a tall pole to invite the heavenly spirits

The lanterns have constant attention from temple volunteers.  Each hour for the nine days of the festival, the lamps are brought down, refreshed with new oil and hoisted upwards again, a constant beacon.

Adding oil night and day

All of the lamps must stay lit at all times

All of the lamps must stay lit at all times

Most visitors to the temple during the festival will pray in front of the lamp as a way of asking for the protection of the heavens.  I suspect that it is also a way of honoring ancestors.  At the base of the pole is a fire pit that figures prominently in some of the communal ceremonies as a place to burn paper money.

Money to Burn

A slow smokey burn

The mythology of the Nine Emperor Gods places them in the heavens.  According to some sources, the emperors are represented by the 7 stars of the Big Dipper and two stars more difficult to see.  Wikipedia goes so far as to say that the stars of the Big Dipper form a yin/yang symbol.  One devotee told me that the pole represents the access point for the soldiers of the emperors who reside in the heavens and come down to protect the festival and all those who prayer there.  There are major prayers performed by devotees on day 3,6 and 9 of the festival, in which food is cooked and offered ceremoniously to the army of the emperor.

The ceremony to feed the army is not without its Trance Masters