Setting up the Nine Lamps
The furnace that will be used by the Towkays and Lor Zhu everyday after the lamp refilling rituals at 0715H and 1715H. They will burn incense papers after finishing the refilling of the Nine Lamps. One can see the Chinese texts, 北斗星君/南斗星君 inscribed at the bottom of the furnace.
The arriving and setting up of the bamboo pole. The bamboo represents both the 南斗星君and北斗星君 (the accompanying generals).
The rack that will carry the Nine Lamps. The Nine Lamps represents the souls of the Nine Emperor Gods.
The bamboo pole will hoist the rack carrying the Nine Lamps.
Preparing the ritual table on the Left. The table on the Right will be used to refill the Nine Lamps during the daily Refilling Ritual.
The Nine Lamps will be raised on the day of the Receiving Ceremony.
The Nine Lamps are arguably the most sacred object and site during the entire Nine Emperor Gods Festival because it represents the entire contingent of deities. All the objects will be Yellow in colour. Yellow represents the Nine Emperor God, and is therefore the only color allowed. Consequently, the daily routine to refill the Nine Lamps is arguably the most sacred event of the day–even though the ritual largely remains the same. Only the Towkays (头家), Lor Zhu (炉主) and Lao Cai You (老菜友)(or their representatives) will be allowed within the area. They are all direct participants of the ritual ceremony. Nobody else will be allowed.
Receiving the Nine Emperor Gods
Hong San Temple tends to commence the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival a few days earlier than the other temples in Singapore. The invitation date is determined by the tossing of divination blocks one year before. Hong San Temple’s 宫务 or the Lor Zhu for the year will toss the moon blocks for several dates, to seek the opinion of the Nine Emperor Gods on the preferred day.
In 2017, the Receiving Ceremony was on 13th October 2017 (24th day of the 8th lunar month). In spite of the Invitation Ceremony taking place only at night, the Towkays and Lor Zhu were busy with remaining preparations during the day. The most important ritual on that day was the raising of the Nine Lamps. This ritual signalled the official start of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
Ritual: Raising of Nine Lamps (0715 & 1715)
Only the Towkays, Lor Zhu and Lao Cai You will partake in the ritual to raise the Nine Lamps. As the Taoist priest started his incantation, the Towkays, Lor Zhu and Lao Cai You knelt on the straw mats. It is important to note that the direct participants will not wear any footwear during this ritual. This was a tradition passed down from the previous generation.
Offerings for the deities before the Ritual begins.
The Priest conducting the rituals, with the Towkay, Lor Zhu and Lao Cai You at the back.
The lighting up of the Nine Lamps. The Nine Lamps represent the soul of the Nine Emperor Gods, hence 9. They are clad in Gold, in substitution for the Yellow that’s required during this festival. Hong San Temple elected to use Gold because it resembles Yellow, and because of aesthetic purposes. Only the Lao Cai You and Lor Zhu will be allowed DURING the refilling process.
Attaching the Nine Lamps onto the rack. The lamps have all been lit up.
Hong San Temple’s rack will take on the same triangle/pyramid shape every year.
Other temples will have racks of other shapes and designs. The only consistent feature is that they will all carry 9 lamps. The existing Hong San Temple committee adopted the triangle/pyramid design from the previous generation.
The only aspect that might change is the height of the rack. With the reference point being the ground, the temple will ask for the desired height of the rack by tossing the moon blocks. Typically, the height of the rack would be around 13, 14 or 15 feet. However, a temple elder revealed that there were instances where the height went up to 18尺. Unfortunately, he did not reveal the significance of the height.
The main Lor Zhu offered his prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods after the Nine Lamps was raised.
The Lor Zhu is an important figure during the Festival. He was said to be chosen by the Nine Emperor Gods to serve them during the Festival. They will have to stay in the temple, be clad in the festival attire, and will be the ones responsible to receive and send the deities off.
One interpretation to why someone was selected to be the Lor Zhu is to receive special protection from the Nine Emperor Gods. By staying in the temple to serve the deities, the individuals will be protected from possible harm.
The Priest continued his chanting.
The ritual ends with the Towkay and Lor Zhu burning the incense papers. A special furnace was used for burning the joss paper.
The Main Prayer Hall on the Receiving Day.
Meanwhile, the other volunteers…
A busy day for the Kitchen Committee. They are responsible for preparing vegetarian food for the worshippers during the entire duration of the Festival.
A Hong San Temple volunteer issuing blessed talisman for the worshippers to paste it on the Ritual Ship.
Other volunteers making sure everything is ready for the procession at night. The truck above will be the first in line. It carries all the necessary permits issued by the authorities. Take note of the picture on the right, with the Red Banner (representing the Jade Emperor) being in front of the Yellow Banner (representing the Nine Emperor Gods). The Red banner represents the Jade Emperor, and will be in front of the Yellow banner when they are erected on the beach for the receiving ceremony, because his celestial ranking is higher than the Nine Emperor Gods.
Uncle Siow making sure everything is ready. He is holding the Gong that will be used extensively during the Festival, usually to mark the start of a ritual or celebration
The opera stage is ready. Opera performances served to entertain the Nine Emperor God deity during the festival period. It continues to be one of the most important aspects of the festival. In the 1950s to 60s, people who have come to seek blessings before the silver turtle would also have to donate to the Nine Emperor Gods festival, in other words, to the opera performances. The opera troupe typically begins performing 3 days before the day of Receiving. Thus, it performs for a total of 20 days for the past 2 years. They performed a total of 23 different shows in the course of the festival. Every year, different opera troupes come to perform during the festival. Therefore, this year’s opera troupe ‘中国广东潮剧院三团’ is different from last year. The performers were hired from Guangdong, China every year. In fact, according to Uncle Lim and Uncle Jimmy, the opera part was not this huge until a few years ago. The temple used to hire troops from Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand. Five or six years ago, the temple started to invite troops from China to perform for the festival. For example, ‘中国福建云霄县潮剧三团’ (it was the second time they performed for HSK) was invited in 2016 and ‘中国广东潮剧院三团’ in 2017.
Representatives of the opera troop paying respect to the Nine Lamps and the deities
The show begins! Although ‘Lemon Grass’ kampong and the Hong San Temple committee are predominantly Zhao An Hokkiens, the performance has traditionally been in Teochew.
Receiving Ceremony: Before going to the Beach
Devotees waiting for the beginning of invitation in Hong San Temple.
The lion dance and dragon troupes from Shao Lin De Ying Tang 少林得英堂, which has a very close and historical relationship with Hong San temple, arrives.
The lion dancers arrive to pay respects to the Nine Lamps and the stage holding the Sedan Chairs. The Sedan Chairs have been moved into the temple’s main prayer hall.
Temple volunteers preparing the Sedan Chairs for the Receiving Ceremony at East Coast Park. The sedan chair carriers from the 香亭会 are distinguished by their yellow t-shirts.
Moving off to the Beach.
Boarding the buses.
The Lor Zhu and the Towkays holding the incense holder, teapot and cups and other objects for the ceremony, accompanied by the priest, boarding the bus to head to East Coast Park.