I can recall over the years when I was living with my parents, mum would comment ‘It’s the time of the year for The Nine Emperor Gods Festival’ when the long spell of rainy days towards end September/early October comes around. But as our family is not Taoist, we did not make it a point to observe the the Nine Emperor Gods Festival through the years and therefore I did not have much appreciation for the festival. I can however vaguely recall one of my uncles bringing me to a temple’s Nine Emperor Gods celebration to watch the ‘walk over charcoal fire’ ceremony when I was a little boy.
This year, I contemplated attending the festival to learn more about the festival, do some photography, and of course, write a post on it. Some quick research on the net enlightened me with interesting and rational background information on the festival’s history and origin …
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a 9-day Taoist event celebrating the return from heaven to earth The Nine Emperor deities. Observed primarily in Southeast Asian countries, the celebration commences on the eve of the 9th moon of the Chinese lunar calendar and ends on the birthday of The Nine Emperors, which according to ancient Chinese legend, were born on the 9th day of the 9th Chinese Lunar Month. The origin of the Nine Emperor Gods can be traced back to the Taoist worship of the Northern Constellation during the Qin and Han Dynasties. The observation and worshiping of stars was practiced in ancient China long before Taoism was founded. As Taoism developed during the Han Dynasty, it began to assimilate the practice of worshiping the stars, symbolizing them as Gods …
Ask any Chinese within Klang Valley who knows about The Nine Emperor Gods Festival and they will tell you the most famous temple in Kuala Lumpur (temple with the most elaborate celebration program) to experience the festival is the one in Ampang – the Ampang Nan Tian Gong Temple (also known as ‘Kau Ong Yah’ Temple in Hokkien dialect) located in Ampang New Village (Pekan Ampang). Ampang New Village is historically a Chinese predominant community which harks back to the introduction of tin mining in the area during the early 1900s.
The celebration kicks off with a ceremony to invoke and welcome the deities on the eve of the ninth moon. Temple priests conducts prayers, and at some stage go into a trance acting as mediums to the deities. As the arrival of the deities is through the waterways, a major attraction symbolizing this is a parade to welcome the deities from a nearby river and ushering them back to the temple. This marks the start of the nine day celebration. Over the next nine days, a host of ceremonies and prayers will be conducted. The festival reaches its climax on the ninth day when the famous charcoal fire walking ceremony is held, followed by a celebration ceremony before the festival winds down and a farewell ceremony/procession is held to send the deities back to the heavens.
Unfortunately, I missed this year’s kick-off celebration and parade as I only got to visit the temple on the 5th. night of the celebration, and twice more on the 8th. & 9th. nights to catch the highlight ceremonies.
A festive and busy atmosphere pervades the temple grounds and its vicinity the nights I was there. Makeshift stalls without and within the temple grounds did brisk business selling prayer paraphernalia, food, drinks, etc. to visitors.
The temple was thronged with devotees; elderly or young, from near or afar, they come to pray to the deities for good health, good fortune, good luck, peace and harmony, divine protection, atonement for sins committed or to offer thanks for prayers fulfilled. The sheer amount of lit joss sticks and candles filled the air with a mist of acrid smoke, making breathing difficult and eyes teary. The Ampang Nan Tian Gong Temple is known for its ‘success rate’ fulfilling one’s prayers and wishes, hence its high popularity among devotees.
Stay tuned for Part II …
All photos: Fuji X-E1 & X-E2 with XF 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 18-55mm & 55-200mm.