The Temple Yew Keng of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng
Apart from the ‘Receiving’ ceremony, another feature that sets the Nine Emperor Gods Festival apart from the other festivals is the Temple Kew Keng (友庙参拜游⾏) also known as temple visitation. The temple visitation, as its name explicitly suggests, refers to the visiting of other Nine Emperor Gods temple in Singapore as a show of respect and solidarity.
For Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, the Temple Yew Keng was held on the third of October or the third day of the ninth lunar month in the evening. The underlying reason for scheduling the visitations in the evening was out of pragmatism as most of the temple members were volunteers whom have work in the day, therefore evening presents to be the most appropriate timing for the temple to hold the visitations.
For Kew Huang Keng, a total of six temples were scheduled for visitations. They were Yu Hai Tang, Guan Yin Tang (⽟海堂观⾳堂), Nan Shan Hai Miao (南⼭海庙), Kim San Tze (⾦⼭寺), Leong Nam Temple (龙南殿), Hougang Dou Mu Gong (后港⽃母宫) and Hon San Temple (凤山宫) respectively. The temples scheduled for visitation were not exclusively selected. by the main committee but rather selected due to convenience and proximity. Nonetheless, the temple took into consideration the historical legacy of the Nine Emperor Gods temple, the temple’s reputation as well as its historical ties with Kew Huang Keng, in deciding the temples it visits.
Receiving and Sending off procession because the motorcade consisted of eight vehicles. It comprised of two leading vehicles as seen in Figure 69, a lorry that carried the percussion team (Figure 70), another lorry that hosted the lion dance troupe (Figure 71), a truck that held the palanquin and its bearers (Figure 72), and two vans which transports the temple members and devotees. As seen from Figures 69 to 71, the vehicles were elaborately decorated with colourful LED light fixtures, lanterns, dragon banners and Kew Huang Keng flags.
Before the motorcade departed for the visitations, Kew Huang Keng was bustling with activities. Devotees and several participants were seen enjoying their vegetarian meals in the makeshift kitchen while more temple members were observed to be in the temple courtyard, chattering and wearing their gears (leg guards, head scarf).
As the time for the visitations drew closer, several temple members began the pre-departure ritual of inviting the Nine Emperor Gods out. The palanquin was first carried into the temple and parked outside of the inner chamber. Following so, the ceremonial party (the urn-bearer (lou zhu， 炉主), two assistant urn-bearers (fu lou zhu， 副炉主) and several main committee members) performed a simple can bai (参拜) (Figure 73) and entered the inner chamber to retrieve the urn whilst another temple member knelt outside (Figure 74).
A while later, the ceremonial party emerged with the urn (Figure 75) and the urn was placed into the palanquin. Against the background was the shouting of “Kew Ong Dai Day, Huat ah, Kew Ong Dai Day, Huat ah” and the striking of the bell. As the urn was secured, the drums and cymbals of the percussion ensemble started to clank.
Trailing behind the ceremonial party, the palanquin was carried out of the temple into the courtyard. Once the palanquin reached the courtyard, it began to swing and circle vigorously. At 7 pm (time of departure), the palanquin was loaded up into one of the lorries and the motorcade made their way to the first temple.
The clanking of the gongs announced the arrival of Kew Huang Keng. As the palanquins were unloaded from the lorry, two temple members began clearing the path with holy water, and salt and rice. Upon arrival at the first temple, the procession was greeted by a “whipping” ceremony from the host temple, which was performed to clear the path for the Nine Emperor Gods for its entry into the temple.
The “whipping” ceremony proceeded as follows: Poised, with a whip in hand at resting position (Figure 76), the temple member draws the whip out with an upwards swing (Figure 77). Next, almost instantaneously, he strikes the ground (Figure 78) and completes the motion with an outward swing (Figure 79).
Once the “whipping’ ceremony was completed, the procession entered the temple compound. As the palanquin entered the temple, it began circling and swaying intensely. Several moments later, in a swift motion, the palanquin reoriented its position and charged towards the temple’s main altar thrice as a gesture of respect (Figure 80). As a temple member alluded, “this gesture represents the greeting of our Nine Emperor Gods to their [host temple] God”. The palanquin then began to slow down.
Meanwhile, joss sticks were distributed to the visiting team (devotees and temple members). After the palanquin settled down, the ceremonial party, together with the devotees headed over to the common prayer area of the temple to pay their respects to the temple’s Nine Emperor Gods. Instinctively, the visiting team knelt down. On behalf of the visiting temple as well as the Nine Emperor Gods, the chief of the (visiting) temple gave a short speech of acknowledgment, gratitude, and blessing to both the host and visiting temple.
Afterwards, the chief of the (visiting) temple cued for three bows (三拜) as a gesture of respect. After the visiting team performed the can bai, the used joss sticks were collected and inserted in the huge golden urn as seen in Figure 81. At this moment, the trumpeting and drumming of the host’s temple percussion ensemble began, and the palanquin started to sway. Taking the lead, the ceremonial party headed for the exit while the palanquin (and carriers), the temple members and devotees trailed behind. As the visiting team approached the exit, the “whipping” ceremony was again performed and the [first] temple visitation was concluded.
The standard procedure of visiting temples; the “whipping” ceremony, the symbolic and physical exchange of respects between the respective Nine Emperor Gods, the manoeuvring of the palanquins, and the can bai was repeated in subsequent visitations to the other temples. While these processes were largely similar in each temple that was visited, the presentation, as well as the receiving was subtly different among the temples due to individual temple’s culture, practice, subscribed belief of the Nine Emperor Gods story and their relationship with Kew Huang Keng.
Leong Nam Temple received the Kew Huang Keng entourage with their palanquin (Figure 84). On the other hand, the visitation to Hong San Temple was slightly more elaborate in comparison to the other temples. For example, before entering Hong San Temple, Kew Huang Keng’s lion dance troupe performs a short sequence to announce their arrival (Figure 85) and the Music Group (Yin Yue Hui, 音乐会) were similarly mobilised to liven up the atmosphere (Figure 86). Moreover, the exchange of warm handshakes (Figure 87) and hearty laughter between the
respective temple members were clearly visible. A plausible explanation for the different treatment of Hong San Temple’s temple visitation could be attributed to the shared history between Kew Huang Keng and Hong San Temple as the temples saw each other as “brother temples”. As a Devotee Group (Xiang You Hui, 香友会) member explained, “because of the brother relationship we tend to show more respect so more elaborate”. The temple-visiting practice was concluded as the visitation party completed the visitation of the six scheduled temples.
The Kampong Yew Keng of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng
A feature unique to Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng is the Kampong Yew Keng (游⽢榜). This Kampong Yew Keng is considered a characteristic of Kew Huang Keng because it is the only Nine Emperor Gods temple that practices it. Moreover, the tradition of Kampong Yew Keng preceded the introduction of Temple Yew Keng since the former began in the mid-1960s while the latter was introduced in the late 1980s.
In the old days, Yew Kampong (游⽢榜) refers to the tour of the palanquins around Charn Mao Hern while in present day, it meant the visitation of the altar stations (⾹亭站) set up in the major housing estates that most of the ex-residents of the village had relocated to. These estates were namely Bedok, Haig Road, Eunos and Geylang Bahru.
Figures 88 and 89 shows the altar station of Bedok North 517 and Haig Road respectively. The primary reason for erecting these altar stations was to allow the residents of the housing estates to partake in the celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at the comforts of their own estates instead of having to travel to 28 Arumugam Road.
The Kampong Yew Keng was held on the sixth of October or the sixth day of the ninth lunar month in the evening. The underlying rationale for scheduling the ‘tour of the kampong’ at night was similar to that of the Temple Yew Keng. The makeup of the motorcade remains largely unchanged from the Temple Yew Keng, with the difference being the mobilisation of the temple’s two palanquins – the Nine Emperor God’s palanquin that was previously deployed in the Temple Yew Keng and the palanquin of Mother of the Big Dipper (Dou Mu Yuan Jun, ⽃母元君), mother of the Nine Emperor Gods.
A total of six locations were scheduled for the Yew Kampong. They were Bedok North Blk 128 Seow Lim Teck Eng Tong Physical Association (少林得英堂)， Bedok North 510, 517, Eunos Blk 16, Blk 5/8 Haig Road Basketball Court and Geylang Bahru Blk 66 respectively. As mentioned, the locations were selected because these are the areas where most of the ex-residents have relocated to.
As the time of departure drew closer, the temple members began the pre-departure ritual of inviting both the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Yuan Jun. The palanquins were first carried into the temple and parked outside of the inner chamber. Following so, the ceremonial party (urn-bearers and several main committee members) performed a simple can bai and entered the inner chamber to retrieve the urn whilst another temple member knelt outside. Several moments later, the ceremonial party emerged with the urn and the urn was placed into the palanquin.
The can bai ritual was replicated for the invitation of Dou Mu Yuan Jun’s urn. After both the urns were secretly secured, the temple members started shouting, “Kew Ong Da Di, Huat ah, Kew Ong Da Di, Huat ah” and the bell started to chime. Outside, the drums and cymbals of the percussion ensemble started to clank. Trailing behind the ceremonial party, the palanquin was carried out of the temple into the front courtyard. As the ceremonial party made their way to the motorcade, the palanquins charged towards the altar thrice as a symbol of informing the other deities that both Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Yuan Jun were leaving the temple compound.
Bouncing and swaying, the palanquins were loaded onto the lorries and the motorcade departed for the first location.
The Yew Kampong entourage was greeted by the master or in-charge of the altar station. Depending on the availability of space as well as age, the in-charge of the altar station would greet the entourage either in a standing position or kneeling position as seen from Figure 91 and 92.
Afterwards, the ceremonial party headed towards the main altar area of the altar station, and after a round of can bai the urn-bearer (lou zhu, 炉主) set the urn down on the table (Figure 93). The urn-bearer then added sandalwood, which was brought from the temple, into the urn that belonged to the altar station (Figure 94) followed by into the temple’s own urn.
According to a temple member, the exchange of sandalwood represented the paying of respects to the local altar station from the main temple. After the exchange of sandalwood, the palanquins charged thrice towards the altar to pay respects to the local station.
Subsequently, joss sticks were offered to the local altar station by the urn-bearer. With the help of several other temple members, the joss sticks were inserted one by one in a circle formation in the urn. As accorded by a temple member, this circular formation symbolises a full circle (圆满). Next, the Yew Kampong entourage made their three bows of respect to the local altar station.
Immediately, after the three bows were performed, the palanquins began to jostle while the joss sticks were being collected from the accompanying followers of the Yew Kampong entourage. The visitation of the first Kampong location was almost completed with the exchange of fruit basket and handshakes as depicted in Figures 95 and 96. The Yew Kampong for the first destination finally concludes with the three charges of the palanquins towards the altar. The above Yew Kampong procedure is repeated at the other designated locations.
While the procedures for the Yew Kampong at the different altar stations were largely similar, the layouts, altar presentation, elements of the stations differ from station to station. Despite some minor adaptations to the formation, the altar stations have elements that resembled the altar at the main temple.
These altar stations were the vehicles for the maintenance of the community/kampong ties of Charn Mao Herng. More importantly, they stand as the testaments to the strong community spirit of Charn Mao Herng.