Text and Photos by Team Shen Xian Gong (Tan Jia Xin, Tan JIa Hui, Tejala Rao, Chng Shao Kai, Ong Xiao Hui)
Online Formatting by Cheng Shao Meng (Merlin)
Special thanks to Shen Xian Gong temple committee for allowing us to document the festival and for their help.
Shen Xian Gong (神仙宫) is a Nine Emperor Gods temple whose history can be traced back at least 90 years. First established in what is today the Strathmore Road area, and moving between different locations in the Henderson, Redhill and Lengkok Bahru area, and back to Margaret Drive (after Lengkok Bahru) it now holds its annual festival in celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods in Jurong West St. 42 next to Block 402. It is currently run by the fifth generation of leaders.
Shen Xian Gong Tentage (Venue) A week before the festival begins, a tentage is erected in the field next to Blk 402 Jurong West St. 42, and the main ritual implements set up in the days running up to the last day of the 8th lunar month.
The receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods takes place every year in the evening of the last day of the 8th lunar month.
Receiving the Nine Emperor Gods（恭迎圣驾）
Dou Mu Niang Niang Sedan Chair （斗母娘娘宝轿）
Jiu Huang Da Di Sedan Chair （九皇大帝宝轿）
Preparation of sedan chairs: The preparations for the festival intensifies on the receiving day. The sedan chairs are prepared, with the deities and incense hold- ers accompanying the contingent to Changi beach for the receiving, installed and tied onto or in the sedan chairs.
Setting up the Nine Lamps: Helpers are working together to get up the Nine Lamps altar. The Nine Lamps is one of the key ritual centres in the Shen Xian Gong festival area.
Installation of Heavenly Armies (放军): The Taoist priest then installs the heavenly armies in the festival area. The priest for Shen Xian Gong is Master Ng Thiam Huat (黄添发). He has been the chief Taoist priest officiating at the Shen Xian Gong Nine Emperor Gods festival since the 1990s, when he took over from his father, who had been the chief Taoist priest officiating at the festival at Shen Xian Gong for a few decades. He summons the heavenly armies to be assembled for for festival.
Cleansing Ritual (Left): The main members of the temple receiving contingent prepare themselves for the journey to the beach, through cleansing rituals. In the photo above, one of the main members of the temple was cleansing himself in front of Nine Emperor God Altar, with a folded piece of joss-paper set alight.
Wearing the Heavenly Generals (Right):（带营) The leader was helping some of the temple helpers to attach the heavenly generals in front of the Five Generals Altar (五营将军).
(1) Hei Ling Jiang Jun Altar
(2) Heavenly Jade Emperor Altar
(3) Central Incense Urn
(4) Nine Emperor God Altar
(5) Dou Mu Niang Niang Altar
(6) Return to main altar (Nine Emperor God Altar (start to invite deities)
Inviting the Deities (请神）: The temple then invites the deities accompanying the contingent to the beach to descend into the spirit mediums. The mediums cleanse them- selves through rituals, and then offer incense at the different altars in the festival area, starting with the Hei Ling Jiang Jun(黑领将军). The invi- tation begins as they do so, and is led by a member of the temple, who offers incense and strikes the Long Bian (龙鞭) at the Hei Ling Jiang jun altar, and after offering incense at the 9 lamps and all the other altars.
As he does so, the drum and gong contingent starts to play. Once he returns to the main altar, the spirit medium assistants, the players of the drums and gongs, and other assistants, start to sing the chant invoking the deities. For this occasion, it is the Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai（中坛元帥) and the San Cai Tong Zi (善财童子) who are invited.
After the arrival of the deities, they greet each other and the Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai gives instructions to the temple assistants to proceed with the journey to Changi beach.
Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai （中坛元 帅）[left] greets the Shan Cai Tong Zi（善财童子）[right]
The contingent, however, stops at the open space between the main altar and the Jade Emperor altar, and one of the participants is given the five flags of the heavenly armies, and proceeds to do a dance [Cao Ying (操 营)]. This is a display of the heavenly armies in front of the commander-in-chief (Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai, 中坛元帅）overseeing the receiving ceremony, and the Shan Cai Tong Zi（善财童子）.
As the dance begins, the sedan chairs on the sides of the tentage area, together with the banners and flags, are loaded onto the lorries.
Nine Emperor God Sedan Chairs: After the completion of the performance, the sedan chairs move out the spirit mediums. There are two sedan chairs designated for the Nine Emperor Gods. The deities with the rest of the contingent also board the lorries for the journey. Together with two the buses and around nine the lorries , they proceed to Changi Beach.
Devotees were not allowed to use light during receiving ritual. The lights on the sedan chairs are switched off during the receiving as well.
Receiving at the beach: This is a very special year for Shen Xian Gong, as the Nine Emperor Gods had just selected a new Nine Emperor Gods medium for the temple. When the contingent arrives at the temple, and as the sedan chairs are being unloaded from the lorries, the designated medium together with the Doh Tao (桌头), or Chief Ritual Assistant, and other members of the temple rush to the altar by the sea, where the medium is quickly possessed by the Nine Emperor Gods. The Taoist priest was already there chanting to invite the Nine Emperor Gods.
Return to the temple: Helpers in the receiving contingent play the gong after coming back from Changi Beach Park.
Raising the Nine Lamps: The contingent stops first at the 9 lamps after returning to the festival area. The 9 lamps are then raised with the Nine Emperor God and Taoist priest.
Visit Other Temples （晋香）
Jin Xiang （晋香)
Shen Xian Gong will be visiting 6 temples, 进水港, 龙山岩, 龙南殿, 凤山宫, 南北斗母宫and 九皇殿 respectively. It will be a simple affair, with only 2 vans of people going to the temples.
Everyone kneeling down and paying their respects, as well as a representative going to the Inner Chamber (内殿) to敬香. In 龙山岩and 汫水港, a representative of the temple goes to the entrance of the Inner Chamber to pay his respects.
Relationship between temples: Beside the ritual exchanges, members of Shen Xian Gong were enjoying chichat with the members of other temples as well. It shows the bonding and friendship between temples.
Nine Lamps （九皇天灯）
According to them, the nine oil lamps are brought down everyday, once in early morning, between 5 and 6 o’clock, and once in the evening around 5. When bringing the oil lamps down for maintenance, was a person hitting the gong throughout the whole process. In the past, they used to hit the gong in the early morning too, they now refrain from doing so, as it would disturb the neighbours. They would ask the Nine Emperor Gods for forgiveness and explain that they will only hit the gong in the afternoon.
Dragon Boat （龙船）
The Ninth Day （送驾回銮）
The ninth day of the festival was the the busiest day, with events running from early morning all the way to late at night, where the temple members and devotees prepare for the journey in the evening to Changi beach to send off the Nine Emperor Gods. There are several major events on this day, starting from the Qing Jiao (清醮), Hian Keng (献贡), Lor Guan (路关)/Jin Tian Zho (敬天座), Crossing the Ping An Bridge (过平安桥), Kou Gun (犒军), to the Ban Xian (扮仙) and Inviting of deities (请神), and the actual sending off process.
Qing Jiao (清醮): In the early morning, around 7 o’clock, the Taoist priest begins the ritual for Qing Jiao (清醮), to pray for blessings for the temple helpers, supporters and devotees.
There were three Taoist priests in total for the day’s ceremonies. Master Ng is in the middle (see above photo), holding the petition and the wooden sceptre, with his assistants holding a bell and a small gong respectively. The other person in the troupe was sitting on the side playing a clarinet. Two ritual tables were set up, one in front of the main altar and another in front of the Jade Emperor’s altar.
Xian Gong (献贡): Xian Gong is the ritual to thank the gods with offerings. Tao priest will first sing out bless- ings, then start passing the offering around to the devotees (in semi-circle),in chain motion. The offerings were cleansed by spraying the water using leaves before being passed around.
Lor Guan (路关) & Jin Tian Zho (敬天座): This year was rather special as after several years of not having a medium for Nine Emperor God, Shen Xian Gong had a new medium selected.
This ritual involved the Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai (中坛元帅) coming down, the new Nine Emperor Gods medium and a more experienced committee member
placing a specially packaged offerings on top of their heads, the medium in trance in front of them, while the Taoist priest was chanting. This represented the obtaining of an official seal and license from the Jade Emperor. They moved on to the next ritual, the transition smooth.
Before the ritual to(送天宫), the helpers worked together to take down and fold the
paper clothing donated by devotees.
As observed on the first day, there seemed to be two set of paper clothing for each god. The paper clothing were separated into the ones with the names of the donors on them.
They made sure that each set of clothing came with a hat and wrapped them all up in a canvas sheet.
Sending Off the Jade Emperor (送天公)： For the ritual, the Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai (中坛元帅) will walked to the outside of tentage after paying his respects to the Tian Gong or Jade Emperor (天公). Then as the incense paper starts to burn, the medium, Tao priest and the devotees will walk one round around the place and the medium will perform a small ritual with a wooden string ball. The medium bared his upper body and hit himself with the ball several times repeatedly, then swinging it.
Yellow cloth banners and sugar canes with yellow in- cense papers were also burned along with the paper clothing. Hokkien ancestors once hid in sugar canes and was saved from danger, and thus sugar canes were viewed as ‘protectors’ , hung beside the altar of the Tian Gong (天公座). The paper altar (天公座) was also burned in the process.
Shan Cai Tong Zi (善财童子） comes after Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai left. Devotees were allowed to consult with him and he distributed sweets/can- dy to helpers and devotees.
Crossing the Ping An Bridge （过平安桥): After all these, was the time to cross Ping An Qiao (平安桥) . The small bridge was set up by some people, building it from the base. Then placing it in the area in front of the Tian Gong altar, the width facing the altar.
Three to four stacks of incense paper were placed on the bridge, and a basin with lit incense paper and some candles placed underneath the bridge. Every round around the bridge includes a zodiac sign (十二生肖), with the last round involving everyone.
The atmosphere was lively and everyone laughed at how the Taoist priest changed his speed of running unexpectedly.
After each round, the person at the end of the bridge will help you stamp a “九皇大帝” red stamp.
Kou Gun （犒军):
Kou gun is a ritual which involves cooking good food to reward or feed the heavenly armies.
Around the late afternoon, they started Kou gun, with 3 tables of food placed at the outdoor altar. In full white, one of them performed a ritual (chanting and hitting the wood block) before waiting for around half hour.
Temple helpers moving those dishes to the Nine Lamps Altar for the Kou Jun.
Incense Paper- After making sure that the heaven- ly armies were satisfied, they will burn the incense paper they prepared and bringing the food back into the tentage for everyone to enjoy.
Sending Off (送驾回銮）
Ban Xian (扮仙）:
Early evening just before the sending off of the Nine Emperor Gods (恭送圣驾),
two actors from the performing opera (戏台) brought a small statue of a boy deity, the Hong Hai Er (红孩儿), and placed him on the inner altar. After that, ten of the opera actors arrived, with eight of them acting as the Ba Xian (八仙) and two musicians, to perform Ban Xian (扮仙） .
The Eight Immortals first paid their respects to the Nine Emperor God one-by-one, followed by two by two.
After that, the actor in the garb of a scholar performed with a special mask on, a mask that required the actor to bite in order to wear it.
Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai (left) and Shan Cai Tong Zi (right)
Inviting the deities for the sending off (请神）: The deities are invited to assist in the sending off of the Nine Emperor Gods.
The Nine Emperor Gods Sedan Chair: As the heavy sedan chair was lifted up by the bearers, the devotees started to crawl underneath the chair, the Nine Emperor Gods stood at the end of the passage, blessing people as they emerged.
Sending off the Nine Emperor Gods and burning the dragon boat: Meanwhile, the dragon boat was pushed into the sea and lit, and another small team of people carried the ‘Lu’ 炉 (incense urn) and entered the sea to send off the Nine Emperor Gods.
Sending off the Gods (送众神）
After the return of the temple contingent to the festival area, the temple helpers have to send off the other deities who had been invited for the celebrations of the Nine Emperor Gods festival.
Recalling the Armies（收军): After the sending off of the deities, the Taoist Priest recalls the armies that he had summoned and stationed at the festival area at the start of the festival.
Lowering the Nine 9 lamps
The 9 lamps will be lowered on the tenth day to mark the end of the end of the festival.