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 guys...you 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

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