The temple was just as crowded and busy on the other two nights I was there. Devotees and visitors thronged the temple grounds and prayer halls going about their activities. This is likely due to the fact most devotees will only have time to visit the temple in the evenings on weekdays, after their working hours.
Being more familiar with the place and environment after my initial visit, I felt more relaxed with my photography, less worried about disrupting the ceremonies or causing offence to the priests or devotees, and immersed myself in the spirit and atmosphere of the festival. For me, attending the festival has indeed been an eye-opening, fascinating and rewarding experience to know more about this interesting Taoist festival’s various ceremonies and its formalities. It has given me an insight and better appreciation of the devotees’ belief, commitment and devotion to the Nine Emperor Gods, who serve as a solace in hard times, a confidante for spiritual advice, a guardian, a source of strength and hope for better future and prospects, and that’s really saying something, in this day and age.
Here are more photos from around the temple grounds and within the temple halls.
During peak periods, devotees were planting and filling the urns full with joss sticks rapidly, while workers briskly remove them to make room for other devotees. The joss sticks don’t get to spend much time in the urns; but that’s ok, it’s the intent and symbolic gesture that matters.
Adorning the makeshift shelter in the temple forecourt were these colourful banners beautifully embroided with folk art, floral motifs, ‘The Nine Emperor Gods’ in Chinese text and fringed with colourful string tassels.
Its not all serious stuff though … there is time for some selfies and general photography, like this gentleman here snapping some pictures of the North Star God pagoda.
Devotees interested in getting spiritual enlightment/advice may consult the gods via a temple priest who after performing a ritual, becomes a medium to the gods. The smiling girl probably heard something funny or agreeable from the gods.
It is customary for devotees to make a donation to the gods/temple at the numerous donation counters set up around the temple grounds. In return, they receive a talisman as token of appreciation for their kindness and generosity.
As part of the event’s attraction and entertainment, visitors/devotees can enjoy the traditional Chinese opera performed nightly. Mainly appreciated by the older generation these days (you can tell from the audience present), this art form and performances is becoming something of a rarity these days, only featured in selected Chinese festivities by associations with sufficient funding to engage them. So, it was heartening to see the event organizers supporting and promoting it, hopefully, gaining more younger generation fans.
For those unable to secure seats, standing and watching the Chinese opera from a distance is equally entertaining.
Devotees praying to the Five General Gods at the side of the main entrance to the temple prayer halls. The Five General Gods are leaders of the spiritual armies.
Devotees queuing at the main entrance to proceed to the temple’s prayer halls. Note how the devotees clutch and hold the bundle of joss sticks high, out of harm’s way.
Devotees patiently queue and wait for their turn to pray to the gods in the outer prayer hall, unfazed by the thick mist of incense smoke making breathing difficult and eyes teary.
When their turn comes, devotees pray in earnest and spiritual devotion …
An up close and personal spiritual moment with the gods …
A temple priest and his entourage going round to the respective gods’ altars reciting verses from a holy scripture during one of many prayer ceremonies conducted throughout the festival.
One of three arched entrances leading to the main prayer hall. It was a hive of activity therein as devotees pray, consult the gods, ask for lucky numbers (number betting), etc. There is also a queue at the far end where devotees queue for their turn to pray and offer their respects to the Nine Emperor Gods which is stationed in an area behind the golden curtain. The bell is tolled each time a devotee offers a donation. Thankfully, its a lot less smoky in the main prayer hall as there is an efficient ventilation system installed to expel the incense smoke through the ceiling.
Devotees knelt in prayer, note the amount and assortment of offerings on the floor offered by devotees to the gods. Those in queue were waiting for their turn to pray to the Nine Emperor Gods.
Some lovely RELA girls on duty during the festival. Crowd control and security is an important aspect of any large public event, the Nine Emperor Gods festival is no different. Event organizers engage RELA (a paramilitary civil volunteer corps formed by the Malaysian government) personnel to be in attendance to maintain order and assist with traffic management, etc.
Female devotees from afar participating fully in the prayers and ceremonies over the nine day festival to enrich themselves spiritually can apply to stay at the temple’s dormitory facilities for a small fee. Its basic but sufficient for the purpose. This is made possible by the fact that the temple is famous among the Chinese community, receives good support and funding from devotees, thus enabling it to offer such services and maintaining its facilities in good order.
Some devotees also choose to augment their prayers and wishes to the gods with incense coils (for longer burn duration) tagged with devotee’s name/family and an appropriate traditional Chinese wish (message). Common wishes are for peace, health, longevity and prosperity. These incense coils are hung in a dedicated area and left to burn completely.
The ultimate in presentation and burn time – erect dragon incense sticks donated by devotees at the ready to be lit.
The temple’s brick walled censer where devotees offer joss paper to the gods. From the moment the censer is lighted with the first piece of joss paper during the commencement of the festival, devotees see to it that it remains fired throughout the festival by continuously feeding it with joss papers. Ensuring the censer is lighted throughout the festival brings good luck and fortune to all.
I will subsequently post a final set of photos capturing the famous charcoal fire walking ceremony.
Part 1 can be found here .
All photos: Fuji X-E1 & X-E2 with XF 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 18-55mm & 55-200mm.