8th October, the eve of the 1st day in the 9th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and the beginning of the 2018 Nine Emperor Gods celebrations at a number of Chinese temples in Malaysia. This time of the year also signals the start of the north west monsoon, which brings its share of heavy thunderstorms and rainfall in the coming days until early part of next year. Over in Ampang at the Ong Kau Yah Temple, it was pouring heavily on the night when preparations were afoot to usher the nine emperor gods to the temple and commence with the 9-day celebration program.
The gods are there to be received on the day, and regardless of the rain, the procession to receive and usher the gods back to the temple must proceed as planned and scheduled. In fact, having the rain during the welcoming ceremony may just bring more luck and good fortune! The procession started a little later than scheduled for the rain to abate and gradually proceeded through its journey along Jalan Merdeka, then working its way into Jalan Besar Ampang, and ending at the end of the road before turning round for the return trip to the temple after a 40min stop. I am told back in the days when there was less development in the surrounding area, and traffic was manageable, the procession actually goes all the way to the nearby river where the gods are received, nowadays only the chief priests and a limited entourage does that and rejoin the procession with the gods in tow.
Devotees and spectators, from near and far, in raincoats or with brollies lined the road shoulders to pray or to spectate. Others without rain protection find cover at the sheltered five foot way, albeit with a less engaging view. Some just braved the rain without a care.
Fellow associations and temples contribute to the gaiety of the procession with nicely decorated illuminated floats and staple performances like ‘lion dance’ and ‘dragon dance’ to entertain and thrill the crowd. The kids just love the floats and the lion and dragon dances.
Shop owners, business owners and homes who are devout Taoist set up makeshift altars complete with all the usual praying paraphernalia to welcome the gods. This is an important and big day in the Taoist celebrations calendar and business can afford to wait while they pay their respects to the gods and pray for good health, fortune, success etc. etc.
The priests in a trance took turns to ‘visit’ the makeshift altars and offer blessings, at the same time amazing the crowd with their display of self-mutilation feats without causing harm to themselves. It amazes me every time I see this performed, the spiritual forces which is at work making these incredible feats possible.
It’s a labour of devotion, and an honour ferrying the gods to the temple in the ornate and quaint looking sedans, which I gather is quite a heavy load as the sedans look very robust and well made.
RELA girls and boys were in full attendance to keep the crowd in check and ensure all goes well without mishaps. From my experience attending the event in recent years, I find they do a great job of keeping things in order and under control, at times even under difficult situations, kudos to the RELA girls and boys!
And it comes together and makes it all worthwhile shooting on a rainy night like this when you get to capture warm candle lit moments like this one … love it :).
Apolitical in disposition, I have had no interest in the local political scene and developments over the years, and have not bothered to cast my vote in many of the previous general elections. This changed however in the course of the last two elections when more and more negative developments (poor economic development, escalating costs of living, social injustice, lack of transparency) and news (financial scandals, kleptocracy) surfaced which led to the people’s growing negative perception and resentment/discontentment of the government. Developments which were fully capitalised by the opposition coalition party, eventually leading to a tsunami groundswell and the downfall of a government which has been in power for the last 61 years, since the independence of Malaysia. Ironically, the Pakatan Harapan (opposition coalition party) victory was masterfully led by the 93 year old Tun Dr. Mahathir, former Prime Minister who had helmed the government for 22 years before retiring in 2003.
It became more and more evident the (last) general elections was just around the corner as more and more ceramahs (hustings) were organised across the nation by the respective political parties to drum up support for the party and raise much needed funds to support their campaign. With the 14th general elections officially announced on the 10th April, campaigning and ceramah activities intensified all the way leading to election day on the 9th May.
I was keenly following the developments, ceramahs and gatherings on a daily basis online, even signed up as a PACA (polling and counting agent) volunteer to help check fraud on general elections day. One of the opposition coalition party’s rallying call was ‘the time for action is here and now’, to save the country from economic ruin and bankruptcy from all the government mismanagement and shenanigans suffered in recent years.
It was a heartening and incredible experience attending some of the perhimpunan (mass gatherings) and ceramahs in the last days to general elections day. The last Pakatan Harapan perhimpunan and ceramah I attended was a mega gathering at Hulu Klang on the 6th May with thousands attending, united, regardless of race, religion and age, braving inclement weather in a water clogged muddy field to support, hear from the candidates/party leaders and cheering them on.
As the saying goes … save the best for last; Tun Dr. Mahathir, as anchor speaker, came on last late in the night to the chants of ‘Hidup Tun’ (long live Tun) from the people. Tun has the uncanny gift to address the people like a father figure dispensing good and wise advice to his charges, and rousing them to action, as only he knows how. The response from the people were respectful and ecstatic, it left me with a strong sense of wish and hope on the night that change might indeed be possible and attainable this time round, for a new and better Malaysia after the 9th of May.
All photos from the 6th of May mega gathering at Hulu Klang, except for the second which was taken a few days earlier at another mega perhimpunan in Putrajaya.
All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 55-200mm, XF 35mm f1.4 and XF 23mm f1.4