Here, the palanquin-bearers remain outside the entrance of the temple, all the while swinging violently, indicating the Nine Emperor God’s eagerness and excitement to return home, as the ceremonial party perform their ritual. The ceremonial party, carrying the ceremonial items and joss sticks, first formed a line at the base of the bridge and paid respect in the direction temple’s entrance. Next, they went up the bridge and stood in front of the temple’s entrance facing outward and paid respect by bowing three times again. They then entered the temple’s hall and faced the altar and repeated the same ritual, announcing that the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods.
Once done, they proceeded to place their joss sticks into the temple’s main urn. The urn-bearers are then handed three new joss-sticks and ushered towards the entrance of the temple where the palanquins-bearers performed three short charges in front of them. The palanquins are subsequently brought into the temple and the electronic firecrackers went off as they entered into the temple’s halls. Once the palanquins have been placed on the ground, the main temple members begin to light joss sticks and passed it around, each taking three joss sticks, and knelt facing the altar. They then proceeded to pay respect one more time and once done, the urn-bearers bring their joss sticks over to the palanquin and they are carefully placed in the talismans-covered urn in complete secrecy.
Once done, the urn was then lifted from the palanquin and brought into the inner chamber. As the urn was taken out, the bell within the temple was repeatedly rung and the act was similarly greeted with roaring cheers shouting “kew huang da di, huat ah! kew huang da di, huat ah!” 九皇⼤帝, 发啊!, 九皇⼤帝, 发啊!). until it was out of sight in the inner chamber. This process was repeated for the second urn. Once both the urns had been returned to the inner chamber, the lion dancers begin to perform a full and elaborate routine at the entrance of the temple. The lion dancers proceeded to form a celebratory message along with four lucky numbers using a plate of oranges that was placed on the floor, as well as offered a scroll of well wishes to a temple member.
After this performance had concluded, the final ritual for the day is marked by the hoisting up of the nine lamps on a yellow octagonal star, also known as the Bei Dou Tian Teng (北⽃天灯). The nine kerosene lamps symbolize the deities’ presence as well as the official commencement of the festival For the entire duration of the festival, the nine kerosene lamps are to be kept burning and only on the tenth day of the lunar month are the lamps to be lowered and snuffed, signifying that the Nine Emperor Gods has left the mortal world.
Prior to the lamp-hoisting ceremony, an urn, covered in talismans, as well as offerings are laid out on the ceremonial table in front of the temple. Each kerosene lamps is meticulously inspected, filled and lit. At around 6pm, the ceremony begins and the main urn-bearer is tasked with the sacred duty of raising the lamps ceremony. As he held the yellow octagonal lamp fixture in place, the other temple members cautiously placed the lamps on the designated lamp hooks. Once all the lamps have been secured, the yellow octagonal star fixture is slowly hoisted up by two members on either side of the ceremonial table, carefully balancing the fixture so as to not let it topple. After reaching the top, the two members proceed to secure it in place by tying it to the ceremonial table. This thus marks the official beginning of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
A prayer chanting is then led by the Taoist priest along with the rest of the main temple members whom had gathered in front of the nine lanterns holding joss sticks. At intervals during the chanting, the lou zhu and fu lou zhus take turns to pour tea into the nine tea cups in front of the urn from the right to the left. After the tea pouring ceremony, the temple members then proceeded to kneel before nine lamps and offer their respects. At the cue of the Taoist priest’s chanting, the body of temple members then rose to their feet and after the priest finishes his chanting, the temple members then come forward to place their joss sticks into the urn which had its talisman removed.
Every day, at dawn and dusk (approximately 6am and 6pm), the nine lamps are lowered to be cleaned and refilled. The cleaning and refilling of the kerosene is considered an extremely ‘pure’ affair. Firstly, the table which the lamps rests on have to be cleansed using holy water with pomelo leaves. After which, a yellow cloth is used to wipe down the interior and exterior of the lamp. Following so, kerosene was meticulously poured into the sparkling clean lamp. During the entire process, the atmosphere was solemn and silent as they do not want to be distracted by any bad thoughts when dealing with the lamps.
For the duration of the festival, a dress code of an all-white attire along with the white headscarves and yellow sashes around the waist are required of devotees and temple members partaking in the rituals. Signifying purity, the donning of the white attire denotes respect towards the Nine Emperor Gods Distinct to Kew Huang Keng, the palanquin-carriers though have collectively opted to adorn the yellow long-sleeved shirts when they are on their Yew Keng procession. This is for sake of convenience so as to differentiate and locate the palanquin-carriers during the procession amongst the crowd. Regardless, yellow or white, these colours are characteristic of the Nine Emperor Gods festival since white signifies purity and yellow signifies royalty.
One of the key features of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is the visitation of other Nine Emperor Gods temple in Singapore as a sign of respect and solidarity known as Yew Keng (游境). For Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, its Yew Keng is fixed on the evening on the third day of the ninth lunar month (22nd October). Kew Huang Keng chose to conduct its visitations in the evening as this allowed its temple members, volunteers and devotees to be able to attend it as it often falls on a working day. A total of six temples were scheduled for visitations; they include Yu Hai Tang, Guan Yin Tang (⽟海堂, 观音堂), Nan Shan Hai Miao (南⼭海庙), Kim Shan Si (⾦⼭寺), Long Nan Dian (龙南殿), Hougang Dou Mu Gong (后港⽃母宫) and Hong San Gong (凤山宫). These temples were chosen based on its Kew Huang Keng’s relationship and history with the associated temples, as well as factoring in its convenience and proximity so as to ensure that visitation does not stretch too long.
Before the Yew Keng, devotees are seen paying respects to the deities while temple members are preparing the various ceremonial items such as sandalwood urn, the holy pomelo water and rice and salt mixture for the Yew Keng later. About half an hour before the Yew Keng, lion dancers arrive to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods.
About ten to fifteen minutes before the departure, the temple’s main members would gather in the temple’s hall to begin their pre-departure ritual of inviting the Nine Emperor Gods out. Firstly, the palanquin which would be used is carried into the temple and placed outside of the inner chamber. Following which,
The ceremonial party and the other main committee members burned joss sticks, knelt and paid their respects.
Next, the main urn-bearer and the two assistant urn-bearers entered the inner chamber to retrieve the urn whilst another temple member knelt outside awaiting to receive it. When they emerged with the urn, the bell is run while the gongs and cymbals are played as temple members cheered continuously “Kew Ong Dai Deh, Huat ah! Kew Ong Dai Deh, Huat ah” as the urn is ushered and secured into the palanquin.
Once secured, the ceremonial party exit the temple’s main hall and form a line at the front of temple and the palanquin-bearers soon follow behind. The moment the palanquin exits the main hall, it begins to swing and rock violently, signify the deities’ presence in the palanquin. The palanquin-bearers then pay their respects to the nine lamps (南斗星君, 北斗星君) and the ceremonial party by performing three short charges toward them. Similarly at around 7pm, before the ceremonial party and the palanquin-bearers proceed to board the motorcade, two temple members with pails containing holy water with pomelo leaves and salt mixed with rice would sprinkling it in front of the procession to cleanse the path ahead of them.
The palanquin is loaded up into one of the colourfully LED decorated lorries while the ceremonial party board the lead vehicle, all the while ensuring that the flag of the temple is held outside the vehicle. The motorcade was elaborately decorated with colourful LED-light fixtures, lanterns, dragon banners and Kew Huang Keng flags. After the temple members and devotees boards their respective vehicles, the motorcade then made their way to the first temple for visitation.
Upon arrival at the destination, the ceremonial party, the palanquin-bearers and the various support groups would alight from their vehicle and form up a distance from the temple in the usual procession order. Once ready, the Yin Yue Hui 音乐会 would begin clanking the gongs in a rhythmic fashion and playing the various percussion instruments, announcing the arrival of the Kew Huang Keng procession.
The path is once again cleansed by sprinkling holy water with pomelo leaves and the salt and rice mixture until the procession reaches the entrance of the visiting temple. There, a host temple member wielding a long whip awaits their arrival. He would then proceed to perform his whipping ritual, which consist of three loud cracks of the whip in a flourished movement which acts as a form of cleansing the area of any malevolent spirits as well as a form of greeting and paying of respect to Kew Huang Keng’s Nine Emperor God.
Once the whipping ritual is complete, the ceremonial party enters the temple to pay respect to the deities in the host temple while the palanquin-bearers pause momentarily outside the temple for the host to greet them again with the same whipping ritual. As the palanquin moved into the temple, it began to circle and sway intensely signifying its presence in the host temple’s compound.
As though they were being compelled by the Nine Emperor God residing in the palanquin, the palanquin-bearers charges three times in the direction of the altar of the deities within the temple as a form of greeting and gesture of respect of their arrival. Upon reaching the main altar, joss-sticks are distributed to the visiting temple members and their devotees who gather behind the ceremonial party to pay their respects to the host temple’s Nine Emperor Gods. The palanquin soon settled down, the visiting team then knelt in front of the main altar of the host temple and the herald of the visiting temple would proceed to announce the arrival of the Kew Huang Keng’s Nine Emperor Gods and the visiting procession to the host temple’s Nine Emperor Gods.
After which the herald would call for everyone to perform three bows (三敬拜) as a gesture of respect to the host Nine Emperor Gods. the herald would then announce “Kew Huang Dai Deh” which the temple members would respond “Huat ah! Huat ah! Huat ah!” After three bows had been performed, the joss-sticks from the temple members and devotees are collected and inserted in the host’s urn. Once this act has been completed, the host temple would then exchange sandalwood with the visiting temple, often in secrecy.
Once the sandalwood had been exchanged, the percussion ensemble would then begin to play again and the palanquins begins to reinvigorate itself and begin to sway after it has been carried up. The ceremonial party then leads the way out of the temple followed by the palanquin and its bearers and lastly the devotees. As the visiting temple is about to leave, the whipping ritual is once again performed for both the ceremonial party and the palanquin and with this, the temple’s visitation is concluded.
This process is then repeated in the subsequent visitations to the other temples with the whipping ritual, the symbolic and physical exchange of respects between the respective Nine Emperor Gods, the maneuvering of the palanquins and the paying of respect being the standard acts being performed.
However, due to each temple’s unique culture, practices, subscribed belief of the Nine Emperor Gods and their relationship with Kew Huang Keng, the presentation, layout and the receiving were subtly different among the various temples. For example, at Hougang Dou Mu Gong, instead of the whipping ritual to greet the visiting Kew Huang Keng entourage, they are instead met by the temple’s own palanquin who perform the three charges towards the ceremonial party and the Kew Huang Keng’s palanquin before entering and exiting the temple’s compound.
Similarly, due to the warm relations between Kew Huang Keng and Hong San Keong, the ritual for the exchanging of sandalwood was more elaborate as compared to other temples where the urn-bearers and the herald would crawl on their knees from the main altar toward the inner chambers of the temple as they carried their basket of sandalwood.
Along the way, they would pause momentarily multiple times to perform three bows until they reach the entrance of the inner chamber while the basket is handed over to the host temple’s member to perform the exchange.
Upon receiving the basket of sandalwood back, Kew Huang Keng members while still on their knees, would slowly shuffle their way backwards and then perform the three bows thrice before standing up. After they had stood up, they would then cheerfully go up to each other to exchange handshakes and hearty laughter. This close relationship with Hong San Gong could be attributed to the fact that Kew Huang Keng and Hong San Gong have a shared history as a ‘brother temples’ and thus, they show more respect to each other as compared to other temples.