Before the entourage leaves the altar station, the palanquin-bearers would perform another three charges towards the altar. Before the entourage leaves the compound to head back to the motorcade, both the ceremonial party and the palanquins are again met with a lion dance. This entire process is repeated at other altar stations with certain elements varying from station to station depending on the layout or space constrain of each altar station.
For instance, the Bedok North Blk 517 had a Teochew opera stage along with another altar located outside the main altar. Thus, when the ceremonial party and palanquins arrived, they first paid respect to it before heading over to the main altar station whereas altar stations such as the one at Geylang Bahru only had the Nine Emperor Gods altar.
In terms of offerings, most of the stations had the basic five different coloured fruits, fresh flowers, candles, nine cups of tea and sweets; however, in the case of Bedok North Blk 128 少林得英堂, the altar station featured home-cooked offerings instead of commercially available vegetarian offerings, which they accredited to a traditional practice which had been passed down from the previous generation.
In terms of the altar layout, some estates such as the Haig Road basketball court altar station and the Bedok North Blk 517 altar station had a separate inner chamber. In comparison, the altar stations at Bedok North Blk 128 少林得英堂and Geylang Bahru Blk 66 only had one central area. Some altar stations such as the one at Haig Road basketball court have restricted areas demarcated by the Zhai Jie (斋戒) sign, indicating that only those who are on a vegetarian diet are allowed to enter.
Another difference between the six altar stations is the presence or absence of the portraits of the main three deities of Kew Huang Keng. Altar stations with bigger space such as the stations at Haig Road basketball court and Bedok North Blk 517 had the portraits hung in the inner chamber, whereas smaller altar station such as Bedok North Blk 128 少林得英堂 and Geylang Bahru Blk 66 simply hung a banner with the Nine Emperor Gods.
Despite the relocation of the temple, the kampong spirit of Charn Mao Hern has been symbolically and physically preserved through the Kampong Yew Keng. Instead of discarding the traditional practice of having the procession parade through the kampong, the community of Charn Mao Hern decided to adapt to their new circumstance by setting up Nine Emperor Gods altar stations at the HDB estates where a majority of the ex-residents had been relocated to, so as to facilitate the continuation of the visitation practice.
While the temple’s kampong had been dramatically extended in geographical terms to a multiplicity of locations, community ties continued to be retained through the adaptation of the village Yew Kampong. The altar stations and the community that annually continues this practice stand as the testaments to the strong community-spirit of Charn Mao Hern.
Selection of next year’s urn-bearers (炉主)
On the eighth day of the ninth lunar month (27th October), the main committee members gather in the temple’s hall in the evening at around 8pm to choose the next urn bearers for next year’s Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Prior to this ceremony, active temple members who have contributed donations to the temple are asked if they would like their names to be up for consideration to be the urn-bearers for next year’s festival. Once all the names have been gathered, the selection of next year’s urn-bearers would come from this pool of participants.
Firstly, the current year’s censer-master and assistant censer-masters would offer joss sticks and pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods before gathering at the front of the temple’s altar. A temple member holding a small gong, positions himself behind the urn-bearers while another temple member holding the lists of names stands in front of them. The temple secretary holding the list then announces to the deities, requesting their presence and approval for the selection of the urn-bearers for next year’s festival. He would then read out the names from the list and the censer-master, holding on to the two crescent shaped wooden blocks, proceeds to bua bui by tossing them upwards and observing how it would land.
If one of the wooden block land on its flat surface while the other lands on the curved surface, it is considered as a positive approval from the deities; if both the wooden blocks land on the same sides, it is considered a negative approval from the deities. If the name which had been called out receives a negative approval, the temple member would proceed to read out the next name; if the name receives a positive approval, a strike would be noted besides that person’s name on the list. After a positive approval, the process of bua bui would continue for that person’s name until he gets a negative approval and the total number of consecutive positive approval would then be noted down. After each positive approval, the person with the gong would strike the instrument to indicate the sum total of consecutive positive approval the name which had been read out had received.
This entire process is repeated for all the names on the list and once done, the temple member would then tally the total number of strikes each person had received. If there is a name which has more strikes that anyone else, that person would therefore be selected as the lou zhu, or main censer-master. In the event of a tie, the names with the highest equal numbers of strikes are selected and the process of pua bui is repeated from the beginning again. This entire process repeats itself until one name gets more strikes as compared to the others and that person would become the main urn-bearer. After the main censer-master had been selected, the next two names with the highest number of the strikes is then selected as the assistant censer-masters, or hu lou zhu. The names which had been selected from this process are then contacted through mobile to inform them of their election.
In the event that the person selected is unable to commit to the festival, the position would then be passed on to the person with the next higher number of strikes. Once the positions have been confirmed, the selection ceremony is over.
The ‘Sending Off’ of the Nine Emperor Gods of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival officially concludes on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (28th October) with the ‘Sending Off’ ceremony, held in the afternoon at the seaside of East Coast Park. Akin to the first day of ‘Receiving’, Kew Huang Keng is bustling with activities since morning; throngs of devotees can be seen making offerings and paying respects to the temple’s deities, while the makeshift kitchen is clamouring with action as the ladies from Fu Nu Zu 妇女组 churn out generous portions of vegetarian bee hoon, vegetable curry and deep-fried tofu for the large crowd which had gathered.
The Sending Off ceremony is a highly anticipated and attended event as this is the final opportunity for devotees to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods during the festival.
Before the sending off ceremony begins proper, the lion dance troupe from the Cheng Jing Hui (诚敬会 [Respect Group]) arrives at the temple to perform a number of routines at the courtyard in front of the temple. The lion dance troupe consisted of a total of nine lions, the largest number of lion dancers during the entire festival, entered from Arumugam Road and paid respects to the other temples along the way.
Upon reaching the courtyard, they begin to perform their routine to first greet the nine lamps before heading up the ramp to enter the temple’s hall to pay respects to the deities directly before the other deities of the temple and the palanquins which were parked outside. After paying their respects, the lion dance troupe headed back to the front courtyard to where the formed a circle to dance before concluding. The front courtyard is then cleared for their next performance where a red plate of oranges, cabbages along with a scroll is placed in the centre while several oranges were arranged around it.