Nine Emperor Gods On A Rainy Night

Devotees Forming The Procession

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.

Ushering The Gods To The Temple

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.

Brolly Happy

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.

A Brolly Buggy Ride

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.

Dragon Dancing In The Rain

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.

Business Takes A Back Seat

Family And Friends Prayer Group

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.

Priest In A Trance (Medium To The Gods) Visiting And Blessing A Group Of Devotees

A ‘I Don’t Believe I Am Seeing This …’ Moment

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.

Ferrying The Deities To The Temple

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!

RELA Girls Crowd Control

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 :).

Warm Candle Lit Smile

 

Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Part 2

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.

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.

 

 

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

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.

The Temple’s Beautiful Main Arch Gate

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.

Tortoise Bun Stall. The Tortoise Symbolizes Longevity And Prosperity In Chinese Culture. The Chinese Signage Is A Commonly Used Phrase Which Translates To ‘Safe And Sound In Daily Activities’

Youngsters Eager To Know What The Future Holds For Them At A Fortune Telling Stall

A Stall Selling An Assortment Of Prayer Paraphernalia

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.

Devotees Lighting Up Joss Sticks And Praying At The Main Urn In The Temple Forecourt

The Young And The Elderly, They Came to Pray …

Pray For Good Health, Good Fortune, Good Luck, Good Job, Good Life Partner, Etc. Etc. Etc. …

Stay tuned for Part II  …

All photos: Fuji X-E1 & X-E2 with XF 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, 18-55mm & 55-200mm.