Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eighth Day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2011(九皇大帝) at Ampang (Day 8)

The eighth day of the festival came in a flash (more like I dozed off last night and woke up to the sun shining on my face). Today is the day where they will conduct the crossing the bridge ceremony at 8pm as a form of blessing to the devotees. The morning started off bright, but by midday, dark clouds were rolling in and the heavens roared now and then. I was kind of expecting this, for every time there is a major event during the Nine Emperor Gods festival here in Ampang, it will at least drizzle lightly prior to the ceremony. This is sort of like the gods giving the place a quick wash down.
The dark clouds rolling in at 12.18pm of the 8th day of the celebration.
As expected, the heavens opened up minutes later and it was pouring with rain!

6.30pm - Managed to get back from work early and took a shower and headed towards the temple. At around 7pm, there isn't much of a crowd, though I sense that this wouldn't be true in an hour's time. The sky was still bright, and by using a daylight white balance setting, I managed to get some interesting shots.
This is the Dao (the path) to the Nine Emperor Gods.

When I arrived, the temple staff were in the midst of sweeping the area to be used for the bridge crossing ceremony. Since they are going to cross a bridge tonight, they have got to build one. The frame for the bridge is a long ladder like structure on stilts and steps at both ends. Then a plank is place onto the structure to provide the walkway. This is then followed by 'structural testing' to ensure that it is worthy bridge. Flags are put put up and on both ends, the Or Leng Ki (two on each end) to 'guard' the walkway. Flowers were used to adorn the bridge, and the entire walkway, steps and the ground leading to and from the bridge was covered with joss paper. This is followed by the placement of buckets filled with water, and more importantly, oil lamps under the bridge to represent the Big Dipper Stars. Without these lamps, it would be just any other bridge and this cannot qualify as Crossing the Peace Bridge (過平安橋/过平安桥). The lamps are left there, waiting to be lit at the right time to signify the start of  the event.
Heave ho! It ain't heavy, its a bridge for God's sake!!!
A little to the left, no a little to the right...That should be alright.
See, told you it can support my weight.
Just a little bit more to your left. Perfect. Just hold still until the end of the ceremony.
The RELA men guarding the bridge from the marauding photographers.
Adding a touch of gold to the bridge - joss paper used to line the entire structure. The Or Leng Ki is about to be set up.
Once the Or Leng Ki are up, they are tied together to close the bridge until the arrival of the spirit medium. Under the bridge, seven oil lamps (two are highlighted and indicated with yellow arrows) are placed beneath the bridge. This will be lit on the arrival of the spirit medium.

There was quite a long wait. During that time, the number of photographers kept building up and were crossing the barricades set up by the temple staff and RELA members. Public announcements were made to inform visitors that all can participate in this event, regardless of whether you have been observing a vegetarian diet or not. The organisers however, would give priority to the aged and those staying in the temple to cross the bridge first. Then the rest can follow. Parents with children are also led to the front of the queue. 
The time is near, the temple staff get their candles burning and ready.
All systems GO! The lamps are lit as the spirit medium reaches the entrance of the bridge (opposite end). The clanging of cymbals and the bellows of the horn trumpets rose to a deafening roar.
The main spirit medium crosses first, followed by the other mediums and the VIPs of this event. They will cross the bridge a second time. The othe spirit mediums will guard the entrance and the exit of the bridge whilst the main spirit medium will sit or stand facing the bridge. Occasionally, he beckons a devotee whom had just crossed the bridge to his side, and gives them a bracelet each.
Assistance for the aged to descend from the bridge.
The medium seated on the sedan chair, looking out for devotees that deserves his gifts of bracelets.

After taking some shots of the event, I decided that I will cross the bridge as well, just for the sake of experience. The queue was long, and many were first timers too. When you reach the entrance of the bridge, a medium is standing guard, and he will either do nothing and you walk through, or he will stop you and wave his small Or Leng Ki over your head a few times. Worst case senario - he stops you outright and uses his fingers and proceed to write some protective characters on top of your head or at the back of your neck The area behind the neck is believed by Taoist to be the point where malevolent spirits enter a person's body to possess it whilst the top of your head is the spirit axis (tilted somewhat backwards like the Earth's axis) is the divine connection axis. I only got the Or Leng Ki treatment, thank goodness. As you pass the bridge, there are buckets (yes, big buckets!) for you to put money in. Shouts of Huat ah! resounded from the temple staff who are in charge of the buckets (hmm, Huat indeed for them). They will also stamp the back of your shirt with the protective seal of the temple, so do wear something that you wouldn't mind getting 'defaced'. The actual crossing of the bridge took less than 15 seconds, but I would certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to give it a try. Now I can say that I have traversed the seven Big Dipper stars.

Now all that is left is tomorrow's fire crossing event...

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