This is the second part of the taking down the lantern pole ceremony that takes place the day after the end of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Ampang Nan Tian Gong Temple in 2011. If you came directly to this post, do look back at the first part [Taking Down the Lantern Pole Part 1] to get a complete sense of the whole ceremony. So here's Part 2 (the actual lowering of the lantern pole):
The priest, who was garbed in his black robes, and the medium, who was ready for a trance session appeared from the temple and headed to the Five Directional General's altar. Accompanied by the clanging of cymbals and the usual musical instruments, the medium enters into a trance and proceeded to the lantern pole. With instructions from the medium, and after an offering of joss sticks and candles, the horizontal bamboo pole was untied and lowered.
|The priest and the medium getting ready for the trance session to lower the lantern pole.|
|Lighting of joss sticks and lowering the horizontal bamboo pole. The medium oversees the entire process.|
|Slowly...slowly...the lantern being lowered.|
|And...touchdown. The lantern (oil lamps) were set aside and then...|
As the bamboo branch was lowered and came to rest by the fencing surrounding the lantern pole, a strange scene unfolded. Suddenly, the locals whom had earlier gathered around rushed forth to the bamboo branch and began stripping and pulling the dried leaves and smaller branches off the bamboo branch.
|The leaves of that bamboo branch was stripped and taken away by the folks waiting around. I am very sure it was just dried leaves and not gold.|
|Yippee! I got a big bunch...|
|His toothless grin tells it all. Notice the bamboo has been stripped bare of its leaves. The crowd of uncles and aunties are more 'vicious' than hawks or eagles or vultures. Perhaps they can be called 'leaf vultures'.|
Many tried to collect as much leaves or small twigs as possible, as if the leaves were made of gold! Those who managed to get a substantial amount were grinning from ear to ear. They believe that the leaves confer some kind of protection and blessing to the bearer, hence the rush to obtain some for their family members and themselves. They must have thought that this guy with the camera must be pretty daft, for he did not attempt to take any despite being in a strategic position to get some good bunches of leaves, but instead just laughed and kept on taking photos. In a short while, the bamboo branch was stripped bare, like a carcass stripped clean of flesh by a flock of vultures!
|The lantern (oil lamps) that was taken down. Many of the folks around were looking at it with that strange look, as if desiring something from it. I thought it was the wick or the light from the lamp that they wanted, but I was wrong.|
After some rice and salt throwing and prayers, one of the temple staff got onto the crane basket and wnet up to attach the pole to the crane. Once that was done, blocks of wood at the base of the pole that was used to wedge the pole steady was knocked out. When the green light was given by the medium in trance, one of them flashed a thumbs up sign to the crane operator and the pole was lifted off the hole and then placed onto stands that were already in place in the temple compound.
|Up, up and away.|
|Here, let the phoenix give you a push.|
|The wooden blocks (green arrows) were knocked off the base of the pole. Only one block of wood is left in place (blue arrow).|
|Work in progress under divine watchful eyes. There were some tense moments as some of the guide ropes were caught on the zinc roofing or the pagoda.|
As the pole was laid onto the metal stands that were spaced out on the courtyard of the temple, the people who had earlier gathered the dried leaves were at it again. This time, there were two different kinds of leaves that they were collecting. One is from a bamboo pole and another from a tree that I suspect was one of the local fig trees. The temple staff had to reserve the part of the bamboo pole from the highest point which carried a yellow flag emblazoned with 天官賜福/天官赐福 (meaning heavenly officer who confers blessing) so that the temple workers and volunteers can take home some blessed leaves. They even had to station one guy to guard that to prevent it from being 'pilfered' by the devotees! After that, some of them very busy collecting oil from the Nine Emperor lamps. So it was the oil that they wanted when they were eyeing the lamps earlier on! I overheard one lady saying that she rubbed the oil on her head to get a luscious crown of hair. Hmm, perhaps I can market it as libido enhancing oil...Wait, that wouldn't work as devout devotees remain celibate for the entire nine days...Damn. Jokes aside, the ceremony isn't yet over, as the medium in trance was busy going around the temple.
|The pole laid onto metal stands strategically spaced out. Notice the 'leaf vultures' had begun attacking the leaves of this pole.|
|The top most section of the pole had bamboo leaves that were reserved for the temple staff and volunteers. They had to post a man to stand guard to prevent the leaves from being carted off by the rest.|
|The uncles and aunties aka 'leaf vultures' filling their bags full with the leaves from the main pole.|
|Workers untying the ropes that were used to secure the pole to the crane.|
|They wanted the oil from the lamps. There is another similar lamp in the background, but I have no idea where was that lamp located or whether the two lamps were used in rotation.|
The medium went around collecting back the five coloured flags representing the soldiers of the five directional generals that were station on guard throughout the festival. You can see in the picture below that the white, black, green and yellow flag were placed onto the buckets of food in front of the temple. After all, the pole lowering ceremony is to recall the heavenly soldiers from their stations and send them off after the festival. The red flag (South Camp) was missing, and apparently someone must have liked Er Lang deity's army so much that the person must have taken them back home! At the end of the ceremony, the pile of joss paper was ignited and the joss sticks lit at the lantern pole were thrown in the pile to be burned away. The food was then a free for all buffet for the folks whom had been busy collecting leaves. One person actually carted an entire bucket off to a corner so that he could pick the best parts before returning it to the bench. At this point I was really hungry and if I had some form of food container plus fork and spoon, I wouldn't mind helping myself to some lunch courtesy of the temple. Then again there is no
rest food for the...photo crazed.
|Calling back all the heavenly soldiers who were on guard around the temple during the festival. Notice that the red flag is missing and the spirit medium just came back with the central camp yellow flag.|
|The joss paper pile being set on fire, marking the end of the pole lowering ceremony.|
|Perhaps I should take a little of that too over there.|
|Divine banquet becomes poor man's buffet.|
Seeing that people were helping themselves freely to the food, someone took out the roasted head of the pig used in the prayer ceremony earlier and asked if anyone wanted to eat it. There were no Anthony Bourdain nor Andrew Zimmern wannabes over there, so poor little piggy got left out.
|Oh look, someone took the little piggy out for a walk...|
As for the lantern pole, after all the binding ropes were undone, it was carted away into storage, to be kept until the next Nine Emperor Gods Festival. So bidding adieu to the pole and the temple, I walked back, feeling hungry and mixed with a little sadness. There's always next year...
|Heave ho...Pushing the lantern pole into the store.|
|The billowing flags with the nine dragon emblem - bidding farewell to the visitors of the temple.|
On the walk back home in the humid midday, the only reminder left of the festival are the nine dragon flags lining the roads leading to the temple. When I got back home from work that day, I was exhausted and fell asleep, but was quickly awakened by the sounds of the Amoy opera. The stage was still lit, but the roads were empty. Perhaps the gods were enjoying a relaxing show after all the hard work attending to their devotees needs and prayers. The opera went on until midnight, and tonight, I was somewhat glad that it was all over.
|An empty road leading to the temple - a far cry from the traffic congested road in past nine days.However, the opera stage is still lit and a performance was ongoing at 7.40pm on the night of the tenth day (yellow arrow).|
So what is next? Hopefully next year I get to see the festival at other temples, though I will still visit the Ampang Nan Tian Gong Temple and I have also promised to show the temple to my friends and family. The reason for highlighting this celebration was that it represented a cultural heritage of the Chinese Malaysians who has a rich, amalgamated mixture of religion and folk beliefs that one day might be forgotten.
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