Another unique feature of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng’s celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is its Kampong Yew Keng or Yew Kampong (游⽢榜). It refers to the tour of the palanquins around Lemongrass Garden to visit the different districts of the kampong and the residents there. This practice originated back in the mid-1960s when the temple was in its old location.
The tradition of Yew Kampong stopped in late 1979 when most of the residents had moved out due to the government acquisition of the land on which the kampong stood and the new housing estates built to house the residents. Only the temple was left standing high in Jalan Alsagoff. The temple’s Yew Keng to other Nine Emperor God temples began in 1984. The tradition of “Yew Kampong” was revived the following year, in 1985, with the temple visiting the HDB estates where the majority of the ex-residents of the Kampong had been resettled. The former residents set up a station to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods and the temple procession. This tradition continued when the temple had moved into its present premises at Arumugam Road in July 1986.
Hoping to preserve and carry on this traditional practice, a family from the community of ex-residents’ living in the new housing estate would volunteer to be the steward or caretaker of the Nine Emperor God’s censer for their community. In order to do so, the family is required to head to Kew Huang Keng and invite the Nine Emperor Gods to take up ‘residence’ in this new community.
Once permission had been granted, a portion of the joss ash is transferred from the main altar’s censer to a new censer which is then brought back to the housing estate. There, the family takes care of the censer in their home and during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the community comes together to set up a makeshift altar station within the housing estate area to receive the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Yuan Jun. The censer is brought to the altar station. Through the act of Yew Kampong, the community and kampong of Charn Mao Herng continues to be preserved and maintained within these new housing estates.
There is a total of six housing estates which sets up an altar station and they are located at Bedok North Blk 128 (premises of the少林得英堂国术健身社), Bedok North 511, Bedok North 517, Eunos Crescent Blk 16, Blk 5/8 Haig Road Basketball Court and Geylang Bahru Blk 66 respectively. Prior to the Receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods, these altar stations are set up in their respective estates; once Kew Huang Keng had received the Nine Emperor Gods and the nine kerosene lamp are raised, the temple members would then proceed to arrange with the various estates when to bring the Nine Emperor Gods to their respective altar stations.
In the case of the Haig Road housing estate, the altar station had been set up in the basketball court between Block 5 and Block 8 prior to the Receiving. Thus, on the evening of the Receiving, a Haig Road station member prepares to bring the Nine Emperor Gods over to the Haig Road altar station.
This process begins with the paying of respect and the offering of joss sticks to the Nine Emperor Gods as well as the other deities of Kew Huang Keng. Once done, the Haig Road station member responsible for bringing the Nine Emperor Gods to the altar station proceeds to light nine long joss sticks and together with a yellow triangular flag with the name of the Kew Huang Keng inscribed on it, and waits for the car to arrive at the entrance of the temple.
When the car arrives, the member passes the joss sticks and the flag to another member seated at the front passenger seat through the open window to hold. The joss sticks and flag are held outside the vehicle at all time as the vehicle proceeds to the Haig Road altar station as it is considered disrespectful to confine the Nine Emperor Gods in an enclose space. This is also for practical purposes as not only is it a potential fire hazard, but the smoke from the incense would fill up the interior of the car if the windows are left closed.
The car then departs toward Haig Road at a moderate pace and upon reaching the housing estate, the joss sticks and flag are handed back to the Haig Road member. Holding the flag and joss stick, the Haig Road member advances solemnly towards the basketball court where he is met by the altar’s station caretaker kneeling in his path holding nine joss sticks.
Unlike the Receiving and other activities of the temple, this process is considerable more solemn as it is not accompanied by the fanfare of lion dances, music and percussion instruments playing. When the temple member had closed the distance between himself and the altar station’s caretaker, the caretaker and the small entourage behind him proceeds to bow to greet and pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods.
Once the greeting has been exchanged, the altar station’s caretaker stands up and both of them proceed towards the altar station through the basketball court where children are playing, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing procession. Upon reaching the entrance of the altar station, altar station’s caretaker and the temple member form a line at the entrance while a member of the altar station would enter the inner chamber to take down the yellow cloth revealing the three portraits of the temple’s main deities. Next, tea is then poured from the right to the left and the two large yellow candles are then lit.
Once done, both the altar station’s caretaker bow three times and proceed to slowly place the joss stick one by one in to main urn. Follow that, the temple’s flag is inserted inside a stack of incense paper.
Once the flag is in place, a temple member proceeds to light the sandalwood inside the urn placed in front of the portraits of the deities. A plastic container of sandalwood is handed over to the member who then enters the inner chamber of the altar station to add scoops of it into the urn.
Upon completing this action, he then returns to the entrance of the temple along with the altar station’s caretakers and other members with their hands in a paying respecting position, bows three times and finally exclaim “Kew Ong Dai Deh, Huat ah!” which thus concludes the ritual.
Another variation of this invitation process can be observed for the altar station of Bedok North Block 517. Instead of a temple member heading down to the altar station, an entourage of ex-residents from Bedok North arrive by chartered bus to Kew Huang Keng on the morning of the fourth day of the lunar month (23rd October) to invite the Nine Emperor Gods over to their altar station.
The group, adorn in white clothing with yellow sashes and white headbands, arrives around 9.30am where they proceeded to pay their respect to the Nine Emperor Gods and the temple’s deities as well to burn incense paper as offerings before beginning the ceremony.
Once done, the main caretaker would proceed to bring the urn from the inner chamber, which had talismans covering the top of it, along with the scroll paintings of the Nine Emperor Gods, Master Song Da Feng 宋大峰祖师, and Gan Tian Da Di 感天大帝 , and place them on the main altar (with the censers) in the temple’s main hall. Another caretaker would them proceed to burn nine long joss sticks as offerings while another member proceeds to use divination blocks to request the deities’ permission to invite them to the altar station.
Once the divination bua bui is successful, the caretaker then removes the talismans and proceeds to place the nine joss sticks carefully and evenly in a circle into the censer. Once complete, the caretaker would then carry the censer out from the temple while another member holding a large plate with the deity scroll paintings wrapped up in a yellow cloth would then bows three times with it before following behind. As they proceeded toward their bus, they were greeted with a lion dance at the entrance of Arumugam Road.
After the lion dance was over, the caretaker along with the Bedok North Block 517 entourage boarded the bus to head back to the altar station. On the bus. the caretaker sat at the front of the bus, all the while holding the censer. The bus along with the lorry ferrying the lion dance troupe then drove back to the carpark near Block 517.
Upon reaching the carpark, the entourage exits the bus first with the caretakers being the last two to get off the bus holding the censer and the plate with the covered scrolls. They then proceed to walk toward the open grass patch where the altar station had been set up, along with an opera stage and a separate altar.
Similarly, the path is cleared by the sprinkling of rice and salt and holy water and pomelo leaves. As they approached the altar station, lion dance troupe had already positioned themselves at the entrance, awaiting the arrival of the caretakers. Again, the lion dance troupe would perform a short routine to greet the Nine Emperor Gods before the caretakers proceed to pay respects at the alternate altar before heading over to the main altar.
At the main altar, they are once again greeted by another lion dance before they entered the tentage. As they entered, a member of the Block 517 altar station was kneeling with 9 joss sticks in hand to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods.
The caretaker then proceeds to place the censer on the table while the altar station member inserts his joss sticks into the censer. After that, the members of the altar station proceeded inside the inner chamber with the plate containing the scrolls to set up. Yellow curtains are unravelled to block the public’s sight of the inner chamber while it is being set up.
The yellow cloth wrapped around the scrolls is first removed, following which the scrolls are passed over to other members atop the raised platform who proceed to hang the scroll portraits of the temple’s three main deities.
Other members help to arrange the tea cups and food offerings to the deities on a table in front of the portraits as well as to burn sandalwood in a small urn. Once the scroll portraits have been hung up properly, the yellow curtains are tied up, revealing the portraits to the public. Devotees then proceed to offer joss sticks and pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods. The lion dance troupe then perform one more routine before the main altar to celebrate the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods to the estate.
For the altar station located at the Geylang Bahru Blk 66, the set-up is done on the fifth day of the lunar month (24th October) in the evening starting around 5pm. Due to construction work being done at the communal square where the altar station usually sets up at, this year they had to shift to a nearby carpark instead. There, a simple tentage along with some tables covered with yellow cloth and chairs had been set up and plastic storage crates containing an assortment of items meant to decorate the altar station is stacked up on one side of the tent.
As night fell, volunteers and devotees started arriving at the altar station to help out. Firstly, a temple member climbs up a ladder to adorn the length of the tent with yellow lanterns bearing the name of the Nine Emperor Gods. Once the lanterns are up, flood lights are subsequently installed alongside the lanterns which are meant to illuminate the altar station when it had been set up.
Simultaneously, other temples are busy taking out various ceremonial items and offerings from the plastic storage crates and arranging them on the table. A large gold banner with a dragon emblem in the centre bearing the words 慶祝九皇大帝千秋, which roughly translates as ‘celebrating the birthday of the Nine Emperor Gods’ was hung up at the back of the tent and tautly secured in place to the frame of the tent. Next, wooden poles were laid out on the table and tied together to form a ‘gateway’. A smaller banner bearing the words 恭迎聖驾 was hung in middle of the ‘gateway’ with two lanterns hung on the wooden poles which stuck out from the ‘gateway’. The ‘gateway’ is then secure using strings and cable tie to the back of the ceremonial table.
While the altar station is being setup, other volunteers were busy packing care packages for the needy in their community. This practice of goodwill first began in 2016 when a temple member had a spark of inspiration and suggested giving back to the community during the festival. The other temple members agreed to this initiative and thus started asking around for voluntary donations from their friends and family living in Geylang Bahru estate community.