The Hong San temple is one of the oldest Nine Emperor Gods temples in Singapore. It is situated at 49 Defu Lane 12 (the old address was 127 Lorong Tai Seng), and has been on the same site since it was first constructed in 1928, save for a short period in 2003 when it moved to the opposite side of the road for extensive renovations. It was an important fixture in Tai Seng village, and was closely related to a primary school, Feng Shan Primary School, which stood next to it. Before the Japanese Occupation, it also drew participants for the Nine Emperor Gods festival from the neighbouring villages in the eastern part of Singapore. Although the village or kampong of Tai Seng is long gone, the temple remains an important religious institution for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Singapore, — especially for these former inhabitants.
Today, Hong San Temple has followers from all over Singapore. However, its Tai Seng roots remain very strong, and the people from Tai Seng village continue to return annually to participate in the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. It is not just a religious affair. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival can also be regarded as an annual social event that continues to bring many people formerly from the ‘Tai Seng’ kampong back together.
Pre-Festival: Mid-Autumn Festival, 30th September 2017
The 2017 Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Hong San Temple was from 13th October to 29th October. Hong San Temple’s 2017 Mid-Autumn Festival Celebrations on 30th September was regarded as the ‘last’ celebration where everyone can wine and dine freely—before the Spring Cleaning starts the next day.
The organising committee set up a stage with karaoke equipment. It was very well-received.
Many people at the event were not shy to flaunt their talents in front of the onlooking crowds.
Volunteers cooking up local delicacies such as satay.
The crowd queuing up for their food.
Other local delicacies like Prawn Noodles were also served.
And more food.
Queuing up for lanterns
Volunteers distributing lanterns to children below 12 for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Lion troops leading the way, with families going on a casual walk around the Defu estate.
Some lion dancing to formally end the night.
As the crowd started to clear, the temple volunteers began resting. The Mid-Autumn Festival can be seen as an occasion that brought people with attachment to Hong San Temple together. Many at the event were actually friends (or even family). Meanwhile, the younger generations mingled happily with one another. Many were evidently familiar with the space.
Through the Mid-Autumn Festival, one can observe the social network within Hong San Temple. Although the volunteers and followers do not live in the same kampong anymore, they continue to maintain healthy relations. As such, Hong San Temple actually serves as a common venue, and facilitates to bring people of different generations together. Also, the Mid-Autumn Festival helped to pave the way for the bigger upcoming Nine Emperor Gods Festival. It was a chance for some to enjoy meat before the strict vegetarian diet begins. For others, it was a joyous occasion to spend with their family and friends.
Pre-Festival: Spring Cleaning on 1st October 2017
Hong San Temple was ‘cleansed’ on 1st October, to which the event served as an indicator for direct participants (e.g. Towkays, Lor Zu, Lao Cai You and certain committee members depending on portfolios) to start their vegetarian diet. On the other hand, the other participants who were not selected to serve the deities that year would typically start their vegetarian diet 3 days before the Receiving Ceremony. Similar to 2016, the ‘cleansing’ of the temple was thorough and extends to the cooking equipment and utensils.
Giving the cupboards in the kitchen a thorough wipe.
Careful cleaning of the deities.
Making sure the signboard is in pristine condition.
Lowering of the lanterns from 2016.
Our beloved team leader hard at work.
More Preparations before the Receiving Ceremony
Hong San Temple’s main entrance, ready to receive a new round of lanterns for the upcoming year. Only the banner representing the Jade Emperor will remain Red during the Festival. This is because the Jade Emperor ranks higher than the Nine Emperor Gods. Everything else will be switched to Yellow.
The Dragon Ship that will be burnt during the Sending Off Ceremony is put in place on 09th October. Although the Dragon Ship plays no role during the Receiving Ceremony, it will send away (1) the Nine Emperor Gods and (2) bad stuffs/bad luck during the Sending Off Ceremony. Worshippers can paste stickers (with their names) on any part of the boat–just not over other worshippers’ stickers. The significance is to send away all kinds of bad luck and ‘unwelcomed’ stuffs.
The Dragon Ship also serves as a vessel to carry negative energies. Temples will bring the boat to tour around. Its purpose is to transport the negative energies and wandering spirits and get them to stop roaming around but to follow the deities.
An important station during the festival! This counter will greet the worshippers, and sell items such as paper offerings and incense. People can also approach the desks to request to hang a lantern for the upcoming year. This counter will be manned by regular temple volunteers and their childhood friends, to which all of them were formerly from the ‘Lemon Grass’ kampong.
The banner at the stage. The stage will later hold the two Sedan chairs throughout the entire festival. Visitors from other temples and performing troupes will also need to come over to this stage to pay respects to the two Sedan chairs during the festival.
The two Sedan Chairs that will carry the incense urn and statue, representing the essence of the Nine Emperor Gods. It is said that if a carrier of the Sedan Chairs follow a strict vegetarian diet, it will feel light. If the carrier does not, it will feel extremely heavy.
Hong San Temple’s official ‘flag/imperial umbrella’ being placed at the steps of the main entrance. It is unique to Hong San Temple, and serves as a flag. The ‘flag’ will be used to lead the entire Hong San Temple during key events such as the Receiving and the Sending Off Ceremony.
The lantern’s location ranges from the outskirts of the temple compound, to the interior (right in front of the deities). The lanterns in the interior will be switched from Red to Yellow specifically for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and will switch back to Red after the Sending Off.
The lanterns that will be hung along the outer perimeter of the temple. Ultimately, the contributions for the lanterns will be used to cover the expenses of next year’s Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
Pots and pans in position, ready to whip up delicious vegetarian cuisine for both the volunteers and followers.
Worshippers typically donate food supplies to Hong San Temple during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The eating area will serve vegetarian food to worshippers during the festival.
Meanwhile, the designated eating area. Only the Towkay and Lor Zu can have their meals here.
Lights outside Hong San Temple