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