Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Goes Up Must Come Down - Taking Down the Lantern Pole

Feeling a little overwhelmed with the Nine Emperor Gods and all the photo taking (read if I hear another discussion about the Nine Emperor Gods again, I will punch you in the face),  I had to drag myself up and get ready for the Taking Down the Lantern Pole ceremony. Perhaps this is a case of too much of something…

With hair smelling like joss-sticks despite numerous shampooing attempts, eyes that are still watery from all the smoke exposure, and severe lack of sleep, I trudged towards the temple. The sun was up and bright, and the heat and humidity was quite uncomfortable.
She's hot and on fire...Oh wait, it is just the heat and flames from the still burning charcoal.

At the temple, locals were still collecting the charcoal from yesterday’s fire-walking. Buckets and bowls and anything that can contain the rather hot charcoals were employed to carry these ‘lucky’ lumps of carbon back home. It must be a good way of getting free labour to clear up the mess by spreading the word around that the charcoal is lucky or blessed.
Have you any charcoal? Yes sir, yes sir, three buckets full.

There was a slight difference in the order of doing things this year when compared to last year’s ceremony. This year, they took down the pole and fed the Heavenly Soldiers before doing the prayers inside the temple with the priest in red robes whilst last year it was the other way around.
Priest - Damn, still no one that can blow my whistle, ring my bell, and tickle whip me fancy.
Assistant urn master - What! You parked my car where?? Shit, like how many times have I told you before?
Urn Master - Hmm, I wonder why my joss stick is producing dark smoke...
The looks on their faces is priceless. Only God knows what is going on in their heads.
Whoa Kau Ong Yah, I thought we had just sent you off this morning. How come you are back? Cashing in on your frequent flyer miles, eh?
Fat chance am I gonna give you a bit of my bamboo twig, go get your own. Or wait for next year! Temple workers showing off what they have managed to gather from the bamboo pole.
Guardian of the light, or rather the oil. People queue up with bottles, waiting for a share of the lantern oil.

As in the previous year, everyone scrambled for the bamboo leaves and twigs when the lantern pole was taken down. I also noticed that the Asisstant Urn Master gets the Heavenly Officer banner on the horizontal pole whilst the Urn Master gets the Heavenly Officer banner from the top of the vertical pole.
TIMBER!!!! Oh wait, that is just the lantern pole coming down.
Uggh! How do you untie these knots. Serves me right for not learning knots during my Boy Scout years.
Locals and devotees helping themselves to bits and pieces from the lantern pole.

After pole was safely taken down, they then directed themselves to the task of feeding the Heavenly Soldiers. It was quite amusing (the weird things that keep my simply mind entertained, sigh!) to witness the temple staff scrambling to light joss-sticks and put them into the buckets of food for the Heavenly Soldiers when directed by the medium in trance, for they had forgotten to do so in the beginning when the ceremony started!
And here's your lunch, Sir! Food for the Heavenly Soldiers.
Strike a pose. Let your body move to the music...Yeah, yeah, yeah... The medium and the priest in front of the Five General Gods' altar.
Where are the joss-sticks?? They are starving up there!!! The medium pointing out that no joss sticks have been placed in the food buckets!
The final touch to the food offering - a single joss-stick for each of the bucket.
And that, my dear Watson, is how you feed an army on a tight budget... Not quite Sherlock Holmes.

When the Heavenly Soldiers had been fed and then discharged from their guard posts, the locals take to the food, some bringing big plastic bags to take their share. Well, no sense wasting food here. After the feeding ceremony, the priest proceeded to do the prayers inside, with the meat offerings and wine. This is conducted with him wearing the red robe with green trimmings, dragons on the front and a Manchurian crane on the back.
Free food for the local folks. You can also see a table set with the meat and alcohol offerings in the temple.
Everything must go - bring your Tupperware or even Giant plastic bags... In the background, the priest dons his red robes for the next set of prayers.
What do you mean you gotta go now?? Just hold it in for a few more minutes. I have been holding it in since this morning. That's why I looked like a pregnant Korean lady!.
The Assistant Urn Master and the priest. There is duck, chicken, fish and a roasted pig head plus Chinese wine on the table behind the priest.

Since the roasted animals are also up for grabs at the end of this prayer, it resulted in a table hitting and shouting event as one of them demanded the roasted poultry back, to be divided fairly amongst those who are supposed to have a share in it.
Put my bird back you, you... A table slapping, shouting match over a roasted bird. Big Bird would have been proud :-p

After the bells and shouting spells, the main altar grew silent once more, leaving the Dou Mu Palace and the Nine Emperor Gods chamber a peaceful, quiet place…until next year. As I walk back home, the dragon flags along the road fluttered in the wind, and I could almost hear them say ,"Till we meet again next year".
All peaceful and quiet again. Probably now Dou Mu can finally get her beauty sleep back again.
A bit sad, but very glad that all is over - the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

PS: Why is it that I am, like the only 'outside' photographer/onlooker for this event? Like where are the rest???

PPS: Next year's celebration dates are as follows: 1st day of lunar 9th is on Saturday, the 5th of October 2013 and the ninth day of the ninth lunar month will fall on a Sunday, the 13th of October 2013.

My links for the 2012 Nine Emperor Gods Festival @ Ampang Nan Tian Gong

Till We Meet Again - Sending the Nine Emperor Gods Off @ Ampang 2012

The send-off this year kicks off at 3.15am on the 10th day of the festival. Despite the unearthly/ungodly hour in which this takes place, the number of people that do turn up cannot be considered small. Having said that, one can see that this event is exclusively attended by those who truly want to send the Emperor Gods off, save for a few gawkers and casual onlookers like me – and the number of clicking cameras drops to just a handful.
So bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr...No??? How about...You are sunlight and I moon, joined by...Hah, also wrong??? Then what do you want me to sing then? The opera putting on the final show for the night.
The air is quite festive, although the impending departure of the Emperor Gods hangs like a thin veil of melancholy across the temple fair. You could almost hear the deities and dragon carvings on the walls whisper that it will all be over soon.

After the confirmation of the send-off time, the opera troupe continues to perform until half an hour or so before the departure time. I managed to catch the last bit of the show, together with some of the older devotees who were killing time waiting for the send-off to start.
Waiting for the send-off to kick start. Even fellow photographers like Yee Loon had put down his camera.
Last minute prayers and the umbrella being given a final adjustments. The atmosphere in here is less smoky now when compared to the other days, or nights.
Hmm, what are you staring at? I call him Mr Sour-Face as he always seems to wear a scowl on his face. When asked why he doesn't smile, he replied "How can I smile when I have to work this hard," and proceeded to show me his scarred arms. Contrary to his scowl, he is actually quite a friendly person.

When the show ended, people start to gather around the entrance of the temple and around the main altar. The umbrella for the urn gets a final prepping and with clanging of the bells and joss-sticks being lit, the mediums go into trance to lead the Emperor Gods on their last journey for this year.
The mediums waiting for their turn to go into trance.
Faithful devotees waiting for the Emperor to emerge from the temple.

Round the Old Ampang town the procession goes, and as we turn around the police station back onto the main road, some of the mediums go off their trance. A lorry has been set up further down the road, and the umbrella, urn master and the ‘royal entourage’ gets crammed into this lorry to be transported to the secret location to send the Nine Emperor Gods back to Heaven.
A sea of people in white clothes and joss-sticks flood Jalan Merdeka as the procession leaves the temple.
Auf Wiedersehen Nine Emperor Gods, and Cheryl sends her goodbye kisses. The umbrella, urn, medium and the Emperor's entourage about to leave for the airport, err I mean the secret location on a lorry.

For the rest of us, we proceeded to walk back to the temple after waving goodbye to the lorry and all aboard. This is the point where devotees who donned the white head-scarf/bandanna would take the white scarf off. As we walked along Jalan Merdeka back towards the temple, stall owners were busy tearing down their makeshift enterprises that had brisk business for the past nine days.
Stinky no more...The stinky tofu stall owner taking down their trademark sign.
The last remnants of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2012 going up in flames - the joss-sticks and joss paper that was used for the send-off being tossed into the censer at the end of the procession.

After discarding the joss-sticks and joss paper used for the send-off into the incense paper burner, most of them proceeded to change into bright coloured clothing and offer another set of incense and candles at the temple. This time the candles are red, and everyone seems to be dressed in red too! Talk about contrast! Also people break their vegetarian fast by eating a meal with meat. I managed to down a bowl of meat porridge with century eggs as I was a little too slow to buy a dumpling (someone bought the whole lot from the seller!).
The old, young and..the moustached offering joss-sticks - They are all dressed in different shades of the spectrum except white.
Let there be candlelight!
RM 5 for a bowl of meat porridge with century eggs. You can add as much sesame seed oil as you like. There is another stall that sells very much the same, except in smaller portion and for RM 3. The glutinous dumpling stall had an early sell-out as someone bought the whole lot, I presume for his entire family.

I was about to leave, when I spotted something being carried into the temple – a roasted pig as offering. I decided to follow and see where this little piggy was placed. I discovered that there were two plastic crate-boxes filled with roasted duck and roasted chicken each on the table facing the Finance Minister. Not only one, but two roast pigs were also brought into the temple. Now this temple for the last 9 days was strictly vegetarian, now you have meat, not only meat but whole roasted animals in here! A great contrast indeed for the celebration.
Ei, ei! What do I spy here? This little piggy didn't come back from the market.
This little piggy end up at Ampang Nan Tian Gong. Roasted pigs as offering to the deities after the Nine Emperor Gods have been dispatched off.
Roasted chickens and ducks. Mmmm, now where's the rice and sauce...

Decidedly tired and very much needing sleep, I slowly turned towards the exit and started my slow walk back. Just as I exited the main temple entrance, a loud commotion caught my attention and what appears to be a scuffle between the stall owners was taking place. Shouts and fists were flying and one of the RELA guys even got his walkie-talkie knocked off when he tried to intervene. As the crowd started to grow, I hastily walked off, not wanting to get involved in any way with it.
It is all over now...or is it?? View of Ampang Nan Tian Gong temple after the send-off ceremony. This photo was taken at 4.50am on the 10th day of the festival.

Tomorrow will be another day for me, for it is the day where the lantern-pole gets taken down and the Heavenly Soldiers are dispatched from their guard around the temple. For most people though, the festival is very much over last night.

My links for the 2012 Nine Emperor Gods Festival @ Ampang Nan Tian Gong

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Round and Round - Ampang Nine Emperor Gods Festival

There are three events that occur after the fire-walking ceremony, two of which gets missed by the casual ,uninformed visitor to the festival. The first is the final 'round-and-round' prayers, which most people would notice as it happens almost immediately after the fire walking ceremony. This is followed by a prayer session where the opera performs at the platform of the altar and lastly, a small prayer where they ask for confirmation of the time to send the Nine Emperor Gods off.
Candlelight supper anyone?? Mrs Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) would have been proud. Setting up the altar for the round-and-round ceremony.

Immediately after the fire-walking ceremony, the altar and the surrounding area gets reorganised quickly for the 'round-and-round' ceremony; where offerings are passed by male devotees from one altar to another until all have been passed through the main altar at the front of the temple.
Tea...set, rice bowls...set, cakes...done, tummy...Oops! Need my robe to cover it up. The priest getting ready for the round and round prayers.
Here comes the bride, all dressed in white...Oh my what an ugly bride...Oh wait, this is Nine Emperor Gods temple, not a church. The men lining up for the round-and-round ceremony.

The lines of devotees are formed and broken down as the ceremony progresses to cover all the altars on the temple, be it the North and South Star pagoda, or the altar at the foot of the flagpole lantern. The line is unbelievably long, and runs from the inside of the Nine Emperor Gods altar to the altars outside. All sorts of offerings were passed along, from rice cakes to bowls of fruits, and even the patron deity of the opera troupe.
He looks as if like he is carrying a priceless crystal in his hands. They must be careful not to drop the offerings.
A long line all around. Round and round the offering goes...
Here's the pagoda cake again...

During this ceremony, the offerings passed along should must not be dropped, as that forebodes something bad for those involved. However, I did see a stalk of tuberose that got progressively mangled as it was passed from one person to another.
Whoa, gentle are making me dizzy. The patron deity being passed round and round in his little carry tray.

When all of the offerings had been passed along and returned back to their respective altars, the ceremony is concluded with a quick rush for the dried fruits and sweet cakes by those involved. Most visitors would have dispersed by now, but for those who stay on, they will get to witness another prayer/offering session where the opera troupe will perform at the altar.
Offerings gone is a flash! They must be really hungry.

Preparation for this session goes on as the altar gets cleared from the previous prayers, and rather quickly, another set of offerings were up and ready on the same altar. Dried longans, persimmons and vegetarian stuff fill the altar table together with bowls of rice and fruits. Not to be missed are the piles of prosperity cakes and longevity turtles.
Shit! I can't see a thing as I forgot my glasses. Nevermind, I will just mumble something - The altar table being set with a new set of cakes and fruits. The priest conducts the prayer session before the opera comes on-stage and perform.
No. 1: Have you seen his ahh...that long you know!!! Can poke you in the eye, man!
No. 2: Aiyah, what for, long one where got fun. Can be painful lor if your eyes get poked!
No. 3: Huh, what are you guys talking about? Joss stick long no use one.
The performers gossiping while waiting for the show to start.
A hundred million miracles, a hundred million....Hah, we are not doing Flower Drum Song tonight?? Then what are we performing?? Strutting and showing off his stuff at the altar platform.
Take her now...Your child will want for nothing... Oi, wrong play lah...
Halt! Who goes there? The performers each take a turn to perform in front of the Nine Emperor Gods.

There was a little confusion as where the troupe will perform, but that didn't mattered as all were entertained with the dancing and twirling that was even more challenging for the performers as they had to do so within the small confines of the platform. When the ceremony ended with the revealing of the Heavenly Officer Bestow Blessings sign, another rush for the offerings occurred and those involved left with all sorts of offered items, including the bowls of cooked rice.
I feel pretty, oh so pretty...I feel pretty and witty and...Whad'ya mean this is not West Side Story??
Hai yah! You have offended my family and now you shall taste my fist of fury....
Lot 665, a jeweled scepter, starting bid is at RM10, anyone for RM20...Yupp!  
Moments before the performer reveals the banner with the words Heavenly Officer Bestows Blessings to the altar.
So hard to fight with these youngsters. Luckily I got a bowl of rice. An old lady manages to get a bowl of rice that was offered during the ceremony.
Picking off the offerings. At the back are a pile of prosperity cakes coloured pink and yellow.

After this performance, the atmosphere is more relaxed and the number of onlookers and devotees dwindled. I was hanging around the altar as I was waiting for the confirmation of the time for the send-off. This  secret, bewitching hour would not be announced until much later, that is after prayers to obtain confirmation of the send-off time has been conducted. This prayer was held about 30mins after the previous session had ended, and would go unnoticed as only a small group of people are involved.
Things get serious as they try again to get confirmation of the send-off time. This is when the opera performers and the patron deity gets recalled back to the main altar.

This year, this prayer drew a little attention, as they could not get a positive answer with the divination block for the send-off time even after many tries. As impatient voices grew louder and louder, one of the priest, who was obviously frustrated, pulled off the string that tied the divination block together.
Another round of eating the offerings. No wonder most of them are a little rotund... A great relief for those involved when the confirmation of the send-off time was obtained, which means that finally some of them can smile instead of having faces that can sink a thousand ships.

After some discussion, they called the opera troupe and the patron deity back to the main altar to join in the ceremony. After the opera troupe members arrived and placed their patron deity on the altar table, and efforts like covering the divination process with their robes, the priest and the urn-master finally got a positive answer for 3.15am, which was immediately followed by shouts of prosperity. I left after texting a few people regarding the send-off time and headed back to to freshen up for the send-off. It was way past 11.45pm when I got home, and it hit me that it had been a long night for me, with a full day coming up soon!

My links for the 2012 Nine Emperor Gods Festival @ Ampang Nan Tian Gong