Monday, September 26, 2011

Eve of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival (九皇大帝) 2011 at Ampang (Day -1)

Raising the Lantern Pole

On September 26, which is the eve of the festival, the day starts around 11am with the raising of a pole to hold a lantern. This lantern will be held on another wooden pole tied perpendicular to the erected pole. The lantern consist of small boxes, four at the bottom, three the next level and two at the uppermost level, totaling nine altogether. This represents the nine emperor gods. The main pole is covered with talismans, and was raised using a crane.
The crane parked in the temple grounds, waiting to raise the lantern pole (cyan arrow). Notice the large dragon joss sticks arranged under the corrugated metal roofing (blue arrow).
The crane swinging into action to raise the pole.
Finally, the pole was raised. The yellow arrows indicate the tip and base of the talisman covered pole. At this point, another pole perpendicular to it to hold the lantern has not been installed yet.
Around mid-day, it started to drizzle. This is usually taken as a sign that the gods are cleansing the ground in preparation of their arrival.

The Procession (九皇爺接神遊行)
A procession was scheduled for the evening, and it usually starts around 7.30pm or 8pm. This is where the deities (the nine emperor gods and also accompanied by a plethora of other Chinese deities) whom had came down to the human realm will inspect, clean and bless the people in the vicinity of the temple. Through the means of mediums deep in trance, they will go around Ampang in a procession preceded by clanging cymbals, beating of drums and the prancing of near hysterical lion and dragon dances. The deities chariot seats will also be paraded around town. The procession returns to the temple with a sea of devotees in tow by 10pm. When I pulled into the parking lot of the condo, the procession was on its way back to the temple. Quickly grabbing my camera and dashing to the perimeter of the condo, I secured a spot to catch some photos. In spite of the light drizzle, there were many devotees as well as visitors standing by the roadside enjoying the spectacle.
Brightly lit floats heading back towards the temple.
Lion dance blazing down the road.
One of the three Chinese Lucky Stars - the God of Prosperity greeting his fans.
One of the Nine Emperor God's Chariot heading back home.
The deluge of devotees in white that follow suit. This marks the tail end of the procession.
View from the balcony - look at the number of devotees jamming to get back into the temple after the procession.

A Visit to the Temple
Around 11pm, I made the decision to make a visit to the temple. The timing would mean that I can cover the temple for today (26th Sept) as well as the 1st day of the festival if I stay on pass midnight (killing two birds with one stone). Just before I left, I could smell the stinky tofu (臭豆腐) sold by the street in the living room as the breeze was blowing towards the condo! However, I will leave the entry on the food sold during the festival to a later date, lest the smelly details detract you from reading this post. It was drizzling as I made my way on foot to the temple, and getting heavier by the minute. Thinking that the drizzle would stop, I left without an umbrella. Suffice to say, by the time I got to the temple, I was soggy and wet. I stood around, soaking up the sights and sounds (and the smoke..cough cough). The were many stalls as you made your way towards the temple's main hall.
Flour buns in the shape of tortoises sold as offerings. There were longevity peach buns being sold as well, all in different shape and sizes and brightly coloured. They sell umbrellas too, as it usually rains during this festival.
You can get your fortune read, moles removed and buy lucky trinkets and amulets.
I noticed two tattoo 'parlour' being set up. One offering the Asian Yakuza type colourful tattoos and this one, which offers Thai religious tattoos. Check out the tattoos on the guys head (blue arrow - nope, that isn't just a shaved head) and the tattoo artist busy at work (yellow arrow).
In the hands of the seller is an offering made with longevity tortoise buns encircling a bottle/calabash gourd. Look at the tall stack of longevity peach buns on the right!
Pitching a sale of buns to ladies.
There is also a vegetarian food centre inside the compound of the temple.

I then bought some joss sticks and made some obligatory prayers to the deities before proceeding to take photos of devotees that came from near and far, hoping that their prayers will be answered by the Nine Emperor Gods.
The main joss urn. The urn just gets filled as quickly as it is being emptied by the temple staff.
Just outside the main hall of the temple. Just look at the ornate ceiling and walls.
The outer chamber of the shrine hall. On the right is the Jade Emperor. The arch leads to the second chamber.
Second chamber of the shrine hall. The yellow cloth screen covers the entrance to the inner chamber. The inner chamber is only accessible to the priests of the temple (as the Nine Emperor Gods' joss urn is in there). You can only pass the joss sticks to them, and in return, they will hand you a cup of tea to drink. Then you give them a small monetary donation. If you give them a larger amount, the priest will quickly pass you a packet containing some blessed item to take home.
There were a few photographers going about taking shots. No doubt they were busy framing their million dollar shot. I got mine without them noticing.
This is the lantern on the pole that was erected earlier today. There are nine lamps on the bamboo pole.

I gave a tenner to the priest when I passed my joss sticks to them, so one of them shoved a packet that is actually a piece of joss money wrapped around some grainy mysterious stuff inside. Braving the rain to get back home, I finally opened the now damp packet. It contains rice that was used to fill the joss urn. Not too sure if I am supposed to just keep it, or cook it or sprinkle around the house to obtain the blessings of the Nine Emperor Gods (九皇爷).
The mysterious packet.
Ahhh, rice from the joss urn. Hmm, I think I fancy potatoes more.

Looking forward to the next day of the festival. Hopefully the pace will pick up even more.

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