Nine Emperor Gods Festival

Last month one of our friends told us that he would have vegetarian food during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. This Taoist festival is yearly held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. The largest celebration takes place in Ampang, but there is also one in Taiping, which I had always wanted to see, but never had πŸ˜‰ .

I asked my Taiping friends about details, and they told me that the main procession would be held on Sunday 6 October, and the fire walking on the last evening, Monday 7 October. So I booked my usual hotel Furama and arrived by train Saturday 5 October afternoon.

Taiping has become a warm nest for me, friends were already waiting at the station, and before sending me to my hotel, we had lunch in restaurant YES.

After a short rest in my hotel, and in spite of the drizzle, I decided to have a look at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple. There are three Kew Ong Yah (Nine Emperor) temples in Taiping, the original one is in Tupai, on walking distance from my hotel.

A lot of activity was going on. Devotees were praying in the temple and having (free) vegetarian food. Many of them were wearing traditional white clothes.

In the temple compound I saw already the floats and chariots that were going to be used during the procession.

That evening I had dinner again with my friends, this time in restaurant 8383 in Pokok Assam. As I said, Taiping is a warm nest for me. The food was delicious and really value for money.

The next morning was the procession. The husband of my friend Bok Kin is a descendant of Ng Boo Bee, the famous tycoon. In April they had taken me to Ng Boo Bee’s tomb, click here for the report. Ng Boo Bee’s town house is in Kota Road., the procession is always passing by there and it is a tradition that the family prepares an offering table in front of the house. Bok Kin invited me to watch the parade from there and of course I accepted her invitation.

Before the procession started, I joined the family in burning joss sticks, not surprisingly nine sticks this time πŸ™‚

Many people were waiting for the arrival of the parade. The cream-colored building is Ng Boo Bee’s townhouse

Start of the procession. In the background the iconic Taiping clock tower.

When the chariots were close to the house and the offering table, they made a left turn and almost ran to the table, stopping just in time.

Many participants were carrying whips, using them to make a cracking sound. There were also quite a few devotees, dressed in tattered monk robes, a fan in one hand and often a bottle of beer in the other. They personify Ji Gong. Fascinating to watch.

Rocking the chariot is a common practice. I had seen it before at the Chengay festival in Johor Baru.

I kept taking pictures πŸ™‚ .

Most of the chariots were carried by men. This one was an exception.

This Ji Gong entered the house to pay his respect to the house altar and wrote something on a piece of paper before he continued.

Another Ji Gong. His robe is tattered. His cap is covering his eyes. Holding a bottle of beer in one hand and a fan in the other. The original Ji Gong (1130-1209) ate meat, drank alcohol and did not care about his clothing… πŸ™‚

The most fascinating part of the procession are the many men, often still teenagers, who have been piercing their cheeks, walk with hooks in their backs etc. They are called masong. Most piercing is done with long, thin, metal poles, but there were a few devotees who had used heavier stuff, like this guy who was using two swords, and the guy to the right, using a gun. Can not imagine how that can heal easily.

Here are more pictures. One guy using an umbrella, another one a tyre pump, even one carrying a ladder! Notice how all of them have one or two helpers, carrying a stool. Understandably, sometimes they have to sit down for a while πŸ™‚

An Indian drum band added to the festive atmosphere. My friends said that this year the procession was longer than before. Several temple are contributing, and also Indians take part in the parade.

Here is another way of self-mortification , similar to what I have seen at Thaipusam, where devotees pull a chariot with ropes attached by hooks to their back. No chariot here, but other boys, pulling back, while the masong are more or less hanging forward.

More piercing of cheeks.

The last part of the procession. Devotees are carrying kavadis. Both the kavadis and the piercing have their origin in the Hindu Thaipusam tradition. Actually, there is a Hindu festival, Navaratri, during the same nine days of the ninth lunar month, but not related.

Heavy stuff, no wonder they sometimes have to sit down for some rest.

One of the last floats. Sprinkling (holy?) water on the crowd.

The whole parade took around 1.5 hour. After cleaning the offering table, the family invited me for lunch. Vegetarian of course πŸ™‚

The fire walking took place on the evening of the next day, so I had plenty of time to walk around in Taiping, meet other friends, enjoy (non-vegetarian) food, etc. I have written a separate post about it, Taiping, October 2019, and will continue here with the fire walking.

The next day around 7pm, my friend Yeap picked me up from my hotel and we found a parking place not too far from the Tupai temple, where the fire walking was going to take place. We were early, a big space had been cordoned off, and people were preparing the bed of ashes. It was shorter than I had seen in Sri Lanka, many years ago.

We had a look inside the temple, where Yeap introduced me to Ong Hean Hai, the caretaker. He is standing second from right, with his children . Later he invited us to his office, where he gave an explanation about the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

There were many food stalls in and around the temple compound. In one of them they were making Yeow Char Kwai, a favorite of mine, specially when freshly fried. The name translates as Oil Fried Devils and here is the explanation for that strange name πŸ™‚

As we were early, we had dinner there. Vegetarian curry mee, very nice. And black coffee with Yeow Char Kwai, delicious when you soak them in the coffee. In the meantime Bok Kin and Teng Hin had also joined.

Preparing for the fire walking, the devotees, dressed in white, perform several rituals. They enter the inner temple, where other people are not allowed. They walk back and forth several times to the fire walking compound, chanting.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is associated with rain, and this time was no exception. When the fire walking was beginning around 9pm, it had also started to rain. Maybe easier for the devotees to walk on the ashes? For us onlookers, we needed an umbrella.

The lighting was not very bright, so it was difficult to take good pictures. Here are two videos I took. The devotees are circling a few times around the ashes, before they walk.

It is interesting to watch the fire walkers. Some of them walk slowly, others almost run. Some carry a child or a bundle of clothes. Because of the rain, you could not see any glowing ashes, but it still must have been burning hot. After the first group of devotees, also others try. It is said that you can only do it if you have been vegetarian during the nine days of the festival , but I doubt if that is true

AFter the fire walking was finished, we went back to the restaurant, where also many of the fire walkers were enjoying a drink, food and company.

The festival was a memorable experience for me. I took many videos dring the procession and the fire walking. Here is a collage.

7 thoughts on “Nine Emperor Gods Festival

  1. Jan, thank you for the vivid account of the procession and fire walking ceremony with so many photos and videos. Just a correction – Ji Gong loves stout so every year the family will put out bottles of Guinness. With changing times they are now cans of stout instead. As for the fire walkers, they have to abstain meat and sex for nine days in order to cross the burning coals unscathed. Even those who are in a trance with pieced cheeks and backs too have to be vegetarian for the nine days.

  2. Een geweldige reportage over de processie in Taiping. Wat interessant om dat mee te maken, Jan !!
    Hoe is het mogelijk, dat – vooral jongeren – piercings zetten met een grootte, die wij op de foto’s zagen. Ik vraag me af, waar dat vandaan komt. Ja, traditie, maar wat is de bedoeling van deze ‘zelfkwelling’. Zouden er ook geen infecties van komen en ongeneselijke wonden het gevolg van dit gebeuren zijn?
    Al met al: zeer kleurrijk in indrukwekkend.

    • Ik begrijp dat er medische assistentie is in de tempel. Wikipedia zegt er dit over: “To this effect few people ever need to have prolonged medical treatment, and although in the weeks after the festival many people will be seen covered in bandages, scarring is uncommon, stitching, even on individual devotees who impale their cheeks, is rare …”

    • You must have been overwhelmed πŸ™‚ The same trip, I wrote two reports about it. Dark clouds came over the hill, but the sun was still shining, that gave the golden light. Magical

  3. Jan: Lee here, from your point of views, you always can snapped nice photos and very impressive.No matter in your home country or Malaysia, especially Taiping I been there so many time but can’t discovered what you have been discovered.Tq for your hard work.

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