Tag Archives: yin and yang

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

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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

New Nine (5) The Culmination – Balance in Fire and Water

The send off for the Emperor has long been one of my favourite parts of the Nine Emperor Gods festival.  I am used to the Ampang style of send off and the Hong Kong St rituals were very different.  I really enjoyed experiencing the Penang tradition of taking the Emperor back to the sea.

The Yeoh jetty was gracious in undertaking some repairs, so we did not have to slog through the muck, or wade through water.  I was grateful.  (I certainly prayed for personal balance as I walked down the ramp of the jetty!)  The photography conditions were challenging but the aura was good.  Balance.  That is what this is all about.  Yin and Yang, hanging in the balance.

1. Here is the Emperor’s Urn being respectfully and carefully brought down the jetty.2. The yellow boat arrived from the procession route and was set on the dock.
3. Then the urn was placed gently in the boat and was covered with sandalwood powder, joss sticks, candles and joss papers.Careful attention was paid to ensuring that the contents of the boat were evenly distributed.  The boat maker “guarantees” that the little boat is sea worthy so it is up to the temple to ensure that it isn’t lopsided when it is lowered in to the water.

4. With the boat secured by human strength to the side of our fishing boat, off we headed to the open channel.  On the jetty well-wishers watched and took photos as we headed out.  I would have thought that they would have been on their knees, heads bowed, but only a few showed that level of reverence.5. No post here would be complete without something a bit more esoteric to reflect my state of mind.  In fact, due to the fact that we were tossing about on the seas, this effect was a bit too prevalent in my photos!6. Once we had reached open water, at some place out there in the darkness that was known only to the seafarers in our group, the small boat was set alight.7. Slowly it was released to its own devices.  We held our communal breaths as it listed a bit, then settled in to the waves.8. We circled the boat three times. It was a protective act to ensure that the fire burned well in the cradle of the sea.  This is the last shot that I took of the boat. The buildings of the port at Butterworth can be seen in the distance.I was surprised that we didn’t stay until the boat became one with the water.   I was looking for that finish, the moment of “poof” when Fire and Water merged and balanced.  But perhaps I need a little more wu wei – knowing when to act and not to act and allowing things to happen.  My motherly instincts wanted us to stay with the boat until it was gone, until the Emperor was in the heavens again.  But, of course, tradition prevailed and the rest lit a cigarette, left the Emperor to do what Emperors do at sea in a small burning yellow boat, and we headed quietly back to shore. 9. Nary a glance back, minds already on something else. Next year isn’t too far off, is it?

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!