Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2017 [English Version]

Once the funds had been pooled, the temple members approached their local NTUC Fairprice supermarket branch to request for a bulk purchase of items such as toothpaste, rice, instant noodles, salt, sugar and other essentials. The supermarket thus procures the requested quantity and variety of items and stores them in the supermarket’s storage room until the festival. On the day of the altar station setup, volunteers with vehicles would drive to the local NTUC Fairprice supermarket branch to collect the items and deliver them to the altar station where it is subsequently distributed and packed into individually bags. Based on the amount of donations gathered during the year, the amount and number of items vary accordingly.

Prior to the festival, the temple members would approach the local community centre to request their assistance in identifying and selecting them most needy residents to receive this care package. This year, they distributed around two hundred care package to needy residents on the morning on the 25th of October.

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Before the urn of the Nine Emperor Gods can be brought to the altar station, the altar station needed to be cleanse of any malevolent spirits residing in the area. Hence, during the setup, a temple member arrives at the altar station to assist in the cleansing of the area. Firstly, the temple member places two oranges with candles and joss sticks stuck in them on top of a stack of incense paper along with a small packet of sweets and a packet of betel nut leaves at the four corners of the tent and at the front of the ceremonial table. Once done, he then proceeds to take the two crescent shaped wooden blocks and run them through the candles’ flame and process to toss them in the air in an act known as bua bui to ask for divine permission to perform the cleansing act.

The two crescent shaped wooden blocks are subsequently tossed in the air until they each land on opposite sides, signifying that the spirits are in favour of the action. Once permission has been granted, the temple member begins to unravel the snake headed whip and present the snake-headed handle to corners and front of the tent to alert the spirits residing in the area of the cleansing act that is about to occur.

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He then proceeds to crack the whip three times which acts to cleanse the area. Once done, the oranges, candles, joss sticks and snacks are removed and placed around furnace while the accompanying incense paper is then burned in the furnace. This entire process is repeated the four corners of the tent and at the front of the temple.

Once the cleansing ritual is completed, the altar station at Bendemeer is now ready to receive the Nine Emperor Gods on the 5th day. The caretaker of the Nine Emperor Gods urn for the Geylang Bahru housing estate and two other temple members necessary for the cleansing rituals then make their way to retrieve the urn from the caretaker’s home.

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An interesting point to note here is that the caretaker had previously stayed in the Geylang Bahru housing estate, however in recent years, he had shifted residence to a different part of Singapore. However, the ‘presence’ of the Nine Emperor Gods is seemingly attached to the community of devotees rather than where the urn is located, thus, the altar station continues to be set up in the Geylang Bahru housing estate. Hence, this goes to show the importance placed on the community connectedness and spirit of Kew Huang Keng’s ex-residents.

Upon reaching the home of the caretaker, the caretaker proceeds to offer joss sticks and pay respect to the various deities in his house; for the Nine Emperor Gods, he offered nine joss sticks which he places in a circle into the urn.

Once done, he proceeds to burn three long joss sticks and insert them into the urn of the Nine Emperor Gods. The nine tea cups surround the urn are then removed and washed before the caretaker returns to the Nine Emperor Gods’ urn to pua bui, asking the deities for permission to bring them over to the altar station.

Once permission has been granted, the temple member performs a cleansing ritual of whipping the area three times in front of the Nine Emperor Gods’ urn to clear their way. The caretaker then carefully lifts the urn from his home altar and places it on a plate along with the other items surrounding the urn such as the Nine Emperor Gods flag and a black and white turtle ornament and proceeds to carry it out of the house.

On the way to the carpark, the other temple member would sprinkle a mixture of salt and rice ahead of the caretaker to purify the path to the car. In addition, the temple member wielding the whip would occasionally signal for the caretaker to stop momentarily while he strikes the whip three times to cleanse the path for the Nine Emperor Gods. As the urn of the Nine Emperor Gods cannot be contained within an enclosed space, they make their walk down the staircase instead of using the elevator to head back to the car.

Upon reaching back the altar station, the two temple member exited the vehicle first to cleanse the path towards to the altar station before the caretaker carries the urn and the various items from the home altar to the ceremonial table.

After the urn and the other items had arranged on the table, the ceremonial table is then laid out with the various ceremonial items and offerings such as betel nuts, flowers, twelve different commercially available vegetarian food offerings (placed in semi gold and transparent plastic cups), nine tea cups, two large candle holders, a plate of oranges and a smaller but elaborate gold candle holder. In addition, a yellow banner with the four characters 九皇大帝denoting the Nine Emperor Gods is displayed at front of the ceremonial table and above the banner a flower ball is attached to the table.

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Subsequently, the two large candles are lit and sandalwood is burned, Next, the caretaker pours oolong tea into the nine cups and pua bui to ask the deities if they are satisfied with the setup. Once satisfied, the caretaker then proceeds to kneel and offer joss sticks to the urn at the altar station, behind him, devotees form a line to take a turn to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods.

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The altar station volunteers proceed to hang up a banner with the characters 明地迷亚路居民香案站in between two trees beside the carpark, announcing the presence of the altar station to the community. Yellow candles were also placed behind the urn to form the character for number nine (九) to signify the Nine Emperor Gods This thus marks the completion of setup of the Geylang Bahru Blk 66 altar station.

The construction of these altar stations allows the residents, both new and old, of the housing estates to partake in the celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and pay respect to the deities without having to travel to the main temple.

The Kampong Yew Keng itself is held on the sixth day of the ninth lunar month (25th October) in the evening. The underlying rationale for scheduling the kampong visitation at night so as to accommodate as many people as possible to participate as the event fall on a weekday. The motorcade remains largely unchanged from the Temple Yew Keng, with the only difference being the mobilization of both the temple’s palanquins -the Nine Emperor God’s palanquin that was previously deployed in the Temple Yew Keng and the palanquin of Dou Mu Yuan Jun (⽃母元君), mother of the Nine Emperor Gods.

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 斗姆元君. The palanquins were first carried into the temple’s halls and placed on either side of the hall. Following which, the ceremonial party (urn-bearers and several main committee members) would then pay respects before entering the inner chamber to retrieve the urn. Several moments later, the ceremonial party emerged with the urn with the usual ringing of the temple bell and it is subsequently placed inside the palanquin. This ritual was repeated for the other urn and after both the urns had been secured, the temple members began cheering, ” Kew Ong Dai Deh, Huat ah! Kew Ong Dai Deh, Huat ah!” and outside, the drums and cymbals of the percussion ensemble started to clank.

Similarly, the palanquins exit the temple first into the front courtyard followed by ceremonial party. Before the ceremonial party enters the courtyard, the palanquins perform three charges towards ceremonial party and then the nine lamps to pay respects. After receiving the three charges, the ceremonial party pays respect to the nine lamps as well as to inform the other deities that both Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Yuan Jun 斗姆元君 were leaving the temple compound.

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Following which, a similar process of the sprinkling of holy water and a mixture of rice and salt is performed as the ceremonial party made their way to the motorcade. One the way to the motorcade, the palanquins were bouncing and swaying vigorously before they were loaded onto the lorries and once everyone had boarded their respective vehicles, the motorcade departs for the first location.

As the motorcade neared the altar station, they stop a short distance away from the location and the entourage then disembarks and assembled itself in the usual procession order. Once ready, the percussion instruments are played and the entourage makes their way to the altar station. At the entrance, they are usually first greeted by the lion dance troupe. After the performance is over, the in-charge of the altar station greets the entourage in a standing or kneeling position, depending on the availability of space and age of the person in-charge.

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After which the ceremonial party heads towards the main altar and after a round of prayers, the lou zu then adds sandalwood that was brought from the temple into the urn that belonged to the altar station. Following which he then adds the sandalwood from the altar station into the temple’s own urn. This exchange of sandalwood represents the paying of respects to the local altar station from the main temple.

After the exchange of sandalwood, the ceremonial party moves away from the altar station to allow space for the palanquins to perform their three charges towards the altar. Subsequently, the in-charge of the altar station then offers joss-sticks to the urns within the palanquins. Thereafter, the ceremonial party would offer joss-sticks to the local altar station, inserting it one by one into a circle formation on the urn symbolizing the completion of a full circle. Next, the ceremonial party, palanquins and the entourage gathers in front of the altar station to perform the three bows.

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The visitation of the altar station is then concluded with both parties exchanging fruit baskets and handshakes while joss-sticks from the followers of the entourage are then gathered and inserted into the altar station’s urn. As the joss sticks are being inserted into urn, the palanquins-bearers move into the space outside the altar station and begin to perform for the crowd that have gathered. if there is sufficient space outside, the palanquin-bearers would energetically circle around the compound, vigorously swinging and rocking the palanquins back and forth for the crowd to watch.

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