Tao Bu Keng 蔡厝港斗母宫 2016 [English Version]

Tao Bu Keng 蔡厝港斗母宫 2016

Uncovering the Mystic:
A Glimpse into the Nine Emperor Gods’ Festival at Tao Bu Keng Temple in Choa Chu Kang

The Tao Bu Keng Temple:  An Introduction

The Tao Bu Keng Temple in Choa Chu Kang is part of a combined temple complex at 2 Teck Whye Lane, together with the Jiu Long temple, the Tian Yun temple, the San Zhong temple, and the Sheng De Tan temple.   The main deities of this temple are the Nine Emperor Gods.  Every year, from the first day of the ninth lunar month to the ninth day, the temple celebrates the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

The major events of this festival include the invitation, public consultation of the Nine Emperor Gods, the community vegetarian feasts, the crossing of the Bridge of Blessing, processions and visits to other temples, and the sending off of the Nine Emperor Gods.  Of these, the invitation and the sending-off are the most important, and also the grandest.  Thousands of devotees would congregate at the temple for these events, and accompany the management committee and helpers in the temple to the sea to welcome and to send off the Nine Emperor Gods.  The drum-and-cymbal groups, the many floats, as well as the lion and dragon dance troupes, all create an especially grand atmosphere. image001.jpg

Temple History

According to the current leader of the temple, Mr. Wang Huo Xing, it was the late Mr. Cai En, a resident of the Sungei Tengah village on the 12th milestone (known in Hokkien as Lai Dong Seng or in Mandarin as Nei Dong Cheng), who had gone to Penang to invite the incense for the Nine Emperor Gods.  He had made the journey because there was no Nine Emperor Gods temple in the village at that time.  However, as there was no temple in the village to house the incense, he had temporarily deposited it at the Dou Mu Gong in Hougang.  Later, Mr. Cai had gone to the village leader, the late Mr. Wang Ke Wei, to discuss the situation, and the Tao Bu Keng was built in the village, dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods invited from Penang.

The temple was built through the efforts of the villagers mobilized by the late Mr. Wang, first as a simple attap hut, and later rebuilt as a zinc-and-tile temple.  Due to its original isolated location, which made it difficult for devotees to go to pay respects, the village leader, in 1945, moved the temple to a location with greater traffic and which was closer to the river.  The area was commonly referred to as Wai Dong Cheng (Wah Dang Seng in Hokkien).  Subsequently, other temples were built alongside this temple, forming a row of five temples, consisting of the Jin Shui Guan, the Shui Gou Guan, the Tao Bu Keng, the Ling Jin Tang, and Lai Sheng Gong.

In 1992, the land on which these temples stood on was acquired by the government, and the Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng had to move to temporary premises in Teck Whye Lane, with the other temples moving to different locations.  Only the Shui Gou Guan temple moved to the current location with the Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng.   In 1996, the two temples combined with four other temples, the Jiu Long temple, the Tian Yun temple, the San Zhong temple, the Sheng De Tan temple, to form the current combined temple.   From its beginnings in 1920, the Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng has had a long history.


Pre-festival preparations

In anticipation of the large-scale celebration, there will be a series of events and discussions held to plan and prepare for the festival. The preparation starts way before the festival take place, such includes applying for the permit for the tentage location, as well as the permission to perform rituals and parades on the public road. These preparations took place since February of the same year, as getting the permit for land use is not an easy task. It was tougher last year (2016), as the usual location they had been using for the past years was closed for renovation. Thus, they had to decide on a new area – the carpark space in front of the temple.image005.jpg

Other than deciding on the location, there is still much for 蔡厝港斗母宫 to do before they can commence with the celebration. They will have to invite the First Emperor God to convey instructions prior to the festival. The usual practice would be inviting him on the ninth day of the lunar eighth month. However, the First Emperor God was invited twice last year as there were more things to discuss about. He was welcomed by a small crowd, mainly the temple’s committee members. His invite was accompanied by the thunderous yet melodic drum beats of the 蔡厝港金鼓队.image007.jpg


Equipped with the drums and cymbals, the Kim Kor Dui (金鼓队) of 蔡厝港斗母宫 plays an important role within the temple. Whenever the Nine Emperor Gods are invited, or any other god within the temple, their arrival will be accompanied with the rhythmic tune of the drums and the cymbals. The beat produced by the instruments elevates the spiritual atmosphere. Their 金鼓队 consist of members of various ages, with the majority being the younger generation. With much practice and dedication, their skills led to them becoming a prominent group within the temple circle.

From minute details to big decisions, the First Emperor God goes through them thoroughly and convey his directives for the upcoming festival to the committee. Other than that, he will also inspect the nine palanquins and the Dou Mu Niang Niang sedan chair that were previously transported back into the temple.image011.jpgimage013.jpg

Other than the administrative matters pertaining to the festival, the temple will conduct a thorough cleaning of the exterior, the interior, the kitchen and even up to the utensils that will be used during the celebration. The clean-up is done to prepare the temple for the welcoming of the Nine Emperor Gods – as the Nine Emperor Gods are very particular about cleanliness and purity. When the nine palanquins are invited back to the temple from the factory where they are kept during non-festive period, they undergo an extensive cleansing process as well. This includes the wiping of the inner compartments of the palanquins as well as the exquisitely decorated exterior.

image015.jpg(as pictured: The 蔡厝港斗母宫’s committee members transporting the palanquins and chairs back into the temple)

image017.jpg(Cleaning of the sedan (as pictured: The temple’s committee members wiping and cleaning the statues and altar thoroughly. Not a speck of dust was spared.)

The cleaning is not limited to just the temple, as censers that are dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods will also be collected from the devotees, to replace the ashes inside. Even though the temple is situated in the West, their devotees hail from all over the island, including the East. Hence, they had to divide into four teams to collect all the censers in the same day.


(as pictured: When they collect the censers from the devotees, they would remove the talisman that was pasted behind the censer. When they send it back to the devotees after the festival, they will paste a new talisman over the back of the censer and burn another talisman into it.)

Each team consists of temple disciples of different ages. Usually, the younger generation will be the ones seated at the back of the lorry, hitting the drum and cymbal while on route to the devotees’ houses. The sound of the instruments act as a form of notifying the devotees that they are arriving.


Once the censers are collected back to the temple, they are cleaned and the ashes and contents are replaced in a systematic manner.image029.jpgimage031.jpgimage033.png

After the thorough cleaning, fresh banners will be hung all around the temple in an orderly manner to announce the festival. Other than the banners within the temple, vibrant flags and long banners are also placed outside the temple, stretching all the way till the nearest LRT station. This is to inform the residents of the upcoming festival as well as act as a guide towards the temple.


Installing the five heavenly armies 

Three days before the start of the festival, the Marshal of the Central Altar (中坛元帅) arrives to set up the five heavenly armies (安五营) in the temple, to bless and to protect the festival area.image041.jpgimage043.png

Raising the Divine Lamps

Another important installation for the Nine Emperor Gods festival will be erecting the divine lamps通天令 – a tall bamboo holding the lamps that that inform the heavens that they are holding a celebration here.image045.jpgimage047.jpgimage049.jpg

Other than the preparations in the temple, the helpers have to prepare the beach for the receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods a day before the invitation ritual.  A group of committee members will bring the flags and poles to the beach and erect them, in anticipation of the big day.image051.jpgimage053.jpgimage055.jpgimage057.jpg

Inviting the Nine Emperor Gods

On the last day of the lunar eighth month, the helpers make the finishing touches to the preparations for the festival and ready themselves for the receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods that evening.   Committee members, helpers, palanquin bearers, drummers, and devotees will all arrive at the temple to prepare for the welcoming of the Nine Emperor Gods at night. The crowd of helpers and devotees gradually increase throughout the day, especially from the late afternoon onwards.

The invitation ceremony marks the beginning of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  It is usually held on the night before the first day of the ninth lunar month.  The temple will mobilize all its personnel, floats, lion and dragon dance troupes, the drums-and-cymbals troupes, and other groups to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods at the sea.  The common belief is that the Nine Emperor Gods will arrive from the sea on a dragon ship.

The entourage for the beach is ready by the early evening.  They depart at 7, accompanied by different types of vehicles, from privately sponsored floats to temple sponsored ones, the lorry carrying the drum-and-cymbal troupe, the lorries carrying the Dou Mu Niang Niang palanquin and the nine spirit mediums of the Nine Emperor Gods, the trucks for the temple assistants, and the buses for the devotees.  The whole contingent must be preceded by the vehicle carrying the Black flag, with the floats, drum-and-cymbal troupes, the vanguard sedan chairs, the chairs of the Nine Emperor Gods and the palanquin of the Dou Mu Niang Niang, following in the abovementioned order.

As the entourage reaches the sea, the items required for the rituals, such as the joss paper, the religious paraphernalia, and other equipment are all ready.  The nine chairs for the Nine Emperor Gods are also in place.  The Taoist priest will begin the ritual for invitation immediately, starting with the chanting and playing of the music.  The drums-and-cymbals troupe will also start playing to add to the atmosphere.  One by one, the spirit mediums will be possessed by the Nine Emperor Gods, and they will take their place in front of their respective chairs, swaying and moving with the roar of the drums and cymbals.

After their arrival, the Nine Emperor Gods, through their mediums, will proceed to pay their respects to the Dou Mu statue on the palanquin.  Colourful ticker-tape will be released to mark the start of the festival.  It was very crowded during the invitation, as people tried to catch a glimpse of the Nine Emperor Gods.  The whole process was accompanied by the loud drums and cymbals, as well as the colourful performances of the lion and dragon dance troupes.

The entourage then makes their way back to the temple.  After arrival at a destination close to the temple, they would disembark to walk to the temple, forming a procession.  People lined up along the streets to watch the fanfare, as well as to pay their respects.  Led by the royal umbrella, the sponsored floats, the Dou Mu sedan chair, and the different spirit mediums for the Nine Emperor Gods, make their way into the temple.

After entering the small tentage, the Nine Emperor Gods would line up on the elevated area, and watch the lion dancers, the three vanguard sedan chairs, as they come to pay their respects.   They will wave their flags to symbolize the blessing of the devotees.  After this, the devotees would pass under the flags to obtain blessings.  The Nine Emperor Gods then proceeded to offer incense at each fo the altars in the temple, before leaving.  Only the First Emperor would remain to inspect the dragon ship and to give instructions for the festival.

In conclusion, the whole purpose of the inviting ceremony was to welcome the return of the Nine Emperor Gods, and to have the devotees pay their respects to get the blessing of the Nine Emperor Gods.  image062.pngimage064.jpg


On the day of the invitation, the temple staff are busy with the preparations from the morning.

The temple staff and volunteers start preparing the food for the devotees in the morning.

The other helpers in the temple also prepare different materials needed for the invitation, and start loading them onto the lorries.  They also start to board the lorries themselves and prepare for the journey to the beach.

CCKDMG utilized around fifteen big lorries for the Inviting Water event, one for each palanquin, one for the spirit mediums, one for Kim Kor Dui, and one for the Dou Mu Niang Niang palanquin. The Dou Mu Niang Niang palanquin is the only all-female assemblage during the festival. The Dou Mu Niang Niang’s palanquin is held in high prestige, as the mother of the Nine Emperor Gods.  All the palanquins and spirit mediums pay respects to the Dou Mu Niang Niang palanquin during the receiving.image066.png

Besides the Dou Mu Niang Niang’s sedan chair, there are three other 过山轿or vanguard sedan chairs that will act as the vanguards in the temple processions, namely during the receiving, sending-off, and even the mini yewkeng/procession. These three palanquins carry the Guan Di Sheng Jun 关圣帝君,  Wu Gu Xian Di五谷仙帝and Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅.image068.jpgimage070.jpg(as pictured: The First Emperor God’s palanquin next to the Nine Emperor Gods’ altar in the temple – for devotees to pay respect to)

image072.jpg(as pictured: Before leaving for the beach, and even before they go into trance, the spirit mediums will pray to the Nine Emperor Gods before commencing)

At the Beach

The Taoist priest is ready at the beach, waiting for the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods spirit mediums, with the chairs set up for them.image074.jpg

As the spirit mediums of the Nine Emperor Gods arrive, the Taoist priests started to chant, play the musical instruments (including the suo na), and began the invitation ritual.   The drum troupe began to start playing.  At this moment, each of the spirit mediums came to be possessed by the respective Nine Emperor Gods.  After their arrival, the Nine Emperor Gods (in their spirit mediums) stood in front of their respective seats, swaying to the rhythm of the drums. image076.jpg

The Nine Emperor Gods then lined up to pay respects to the statue of the Dipper Mother.   The participants in the event began to release ticker tape into the air to celebrate the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods.   The crowd was immense, all there to catch a glimpse of the  Nine Emperor Gods.  It was a colourful affair with the loud drums and the colourful dancing lions and dragons. image082.jpgimage086.jpgimage084.jpgimage078.pngimage080.jpg


After the end of the rituals at the sea, the Nine Emperor Gods and the different sedan chairs return to the temple.  At a distance from the temple, the contingent will disembark from their lorries and make their way to the temple on foot.  Some helpers from the temple will act as the vanguard to clear the way with their magical whips, to chase away evil spirits. image088.png(as pictured: The spiritual whip (法索) bearers whipping in unison to pave the way for the Nine Emperor Gods, Dou Mu Niang Niang, the three 过山轿, as well as the nine palanquins.)  The five spiritual whip bearers each represent a different direction  中营东营南营西营北营.

image090.jpg(as pictured: The Nine Emperor Gods blessing the devotees who lined up along the road)

image092.jpgimage094.jpg(as pictured: The palanquins shining brightly with all their LED lights as they make their way back into the temple.)


The procession back to the temple was watched by huge crowds, with the temple assistants helping to maintain order to ensure everything went smoothly.

image101.jpg(as pictured: The buses that pass by the route often stop to take a look at the majestic event.)

image103.png(as pictured: Dancing lions welcome the Nine Emperor Gods and the palanquins as they make their way back to the temple. The short route back to the temple felt like a magnificent parade.)

image105.jpg(as pictured: When the Nine Emperor Gods arrive back at the temple, the temple committee will clear the roads to welcome them)

After entering the small tentage, the Nine Emperor Gods would line up on the elevated area, and watch the lion dancers, the three vanguard sedan chairs, as they come forth to pay their respects.   They will wave their flags to symbolize the blessing of the devotees.  After this, the devotees would pass under the flags to obtain blessings.  The Nine Emperor Gods then proceeded to offer incense at each of the altars in the temple, before leaving.  Only the First Emperor would remain to inspect the dragon ship and to give instructions for the festival. image107.jpgimage109.jpg(as pictured: Hundreds, or even thousands of devotee lined the streets along the procession back to the temple to get blessed by the Nine Emperor Gods)

image111.jpg(as pictured: The Dou Mu Niang Niang entourage welcomed by the Lion Dance before going into the temple)

image113.jpg(as pictured: The palanquins going into the temple one by one)


After arriving back at the temple, the Nine Emperor Gods paid respect to the altars within 蔡厝港斗母宫, the tentage, as well as the other temples that are in the combined temple space.


At the same time, the nine lamps representing the Nine Emperors were lit and raised up outside the temple, marking the start of the festival.


As the only temple with nine spirit mediums for all Nine Emperor God, Tao Bu Keng temple draws a massive crowd each year during their celebration.


During the nine days of the festival, Rewarding of the Generals (犒军) is held daily. More than 20 dishes will be whipped up in the kitchen and served to the generals. The ceremony is not just for the generals. It is also for the spirits who assisted the gods, which is why joss sticks are being placed on the food.  The rewarding of the armies is an important ritual, in which the troops and cavalry would be rewarded for their efforts in guarding the temple during the festival.   image131.png

The vegetarian food for the rewarding of the armies will be prepared by the female volunteers.  The dishes prepared depended on the people cooking (what they knew how to cook) and the fresh ingredients available on that day.  According to the temple committee members, the food for the ritual to reward the armies was always prepared by the inhabitants of the village in the old days.  After the end of the ritual, the villagers would bring the food back home to eat.  To save any inconvenience, the temple assistants are now responsible for the cooking of the food for this ritual, ever since the temple had moved to the present location.    image133.jpgimage135.jpg

After the food is prepared, they will be placed on tables outside the main altar room.  Besides the food, the table will have 5 cups of tea, 5 cups of wine, incense, rice and vegetables.   image137.png

Before the start of the ritual, a member of the temple committee would fill 4 bowls with rice and vegetables from the spread for the rewarding of the armies.  They would be offered to the Black Flag General, the Tiger Deity General and the two Netherworld General Deities.

The ritual would consist of the following procedure:  1)  the spraying of red flower water, and cracking of the magic whip once.  2)  to plant a joss-stick into each dish, and prepare joss paper.  3)  the vanguard who cracked the whip would pay respects with the whip and ask the armies to partake of the food.  4) The divination blocks would be thrown to ask if the armies are here.  5) After some time, the blocks would be cast to ask if they could burn the joss paper.  6) After burning the joss paper, they had to cast the divination blocks again to ask if they had eaten.  7)  Only after the blocks gave a positive answer, can the food be removed.  image139.jpgimage141.jpgimage143.jpgimage145.jpg

Small blessing items for the devotees are also prepared for the festival.  This include the little rice sacks, commonly termed as Prosperity Rice (发财米).. Devotees may also choose to purchase a set of lanterns which will be hung on the ceiling of the temple for the entire year or to purchase a pair of 光明灯 (candles) that can be lit and placed at the two sides of the temple. These lanterns and candles are usually highly sought after by the devotees, as they symbolizes a bright route ahead.image147.pngimage149.pngimage151.jpgimage153.pngimage155.jpg


On the first, third, and fifth day of the festival, there will be consultations held by three of the nine emperors. Details of which are pasted on the noticeboard before the festival commence, so devotees can take note of the dates to come to the temple for consultation with the Nine Emperor Gods. It is widely believed that the Nine Emperor Gods 有求必应 (grants every request), therefore, a crowd is expected during every consultation period. The consultation time is held at night so that devotees can all come after work. There is however, a standard rule that applies to everyone who is coming for the consultation – that is to not ask for wealth or marriage – which was instructed by the Gods themselves. Their extent of their consultation ranges wide, it can be as simple as drawing an amulet for the devotees or making a decision regarding the temple or the festival.image157.jpgimage159.png

(as pictured: The set-up of the table for the Nine Emperor Gods – with coloured amulets for different uses. The cloth one for keeping, and the paper ones, for pasting, for consumption, or for bathing.)

During the days where the Nine Emperor Gods arrive for consultation, they usually end with the spirit mediums coming out of trance with the help of the committee members, who are equipped with the knowledge of how to bring them to trance, and bringing them out of trance.


Touring the “kampong”

During the sixth day of the celebration, Tao Bu Keng temple will have a small scale yewkeng (游境) and another invite water (请水) ritual at a private jetty off Lim Chu Kang road, which was the old location where they invited water. The Nine Emperor Gods will all arrive for this ritual. Accompanied by the temple’s committee members and hundreds of devotees, they will proceed to the dimly-lit jetty where a Taoist priest is engaged to conduct the ritual. After the Taoist priest is done with the chanting, the First Emperor God will walk to the pier and a bucket of water is collected from the water body below. Thereafter, the bucket of water is held on the head of a committee member, wrapped up in the symbolic yellow cloth of Tao Bu Keng temple.image163.pngimage165.png

(as pictured: The Nine Emperor Gods stand in position, while preparing to leave for the yewkeng.)image167.png

On the same night, they will proceed to Zheng Hua, where a temporary altar is constructed on the hardcourt to pay respect to the Nine Emperor Gods. This altar is set up by Ci Bei Ma Zu Gong 慈悲妈祖宫, a temple affiliated to Tao Bu Keng temple.   The ties between the temples go back a long way.  The temple was situated next to the jetty where the invitation took place, and a representative from Tao Bu Keng would pay respects at the temple a few days before the invitation to inform the deity Mazu of the upcoming procession and ceremony.   Today, several Nine Emperor Gods’ spirit mediums in Tao Bu Keng also hail from this temple, hence the close relations. At both the jetty and at the altar, the Taoist Priest will conduct a simple ritual.image169.jpgimage171.pngimage173.pngimage177.jpgimage175.jpgAfter a night of traveling, the spirit mediums and the palanquins arrive back at the temple.

image179.jpgimage181.pngAfter a long and weary night, the spirit mediums come out of trance.


Temples visiting and visiting temples

During the nine days of celebration, various other 九皇爷 temples came from the East all the way to Teck Whye, located in the West, to pay respects to the 九皇大帝 deity of 蔡厝港斗母宫. They would come in great fanfare, along with their committee, devotees and even a lion dance troupe. They would first pay respect to the altar within the temple before proceeding to the tentage area to pay respect. After the formal ceremony, they would hang around the tentage area, feasting off the curry bee hoon and the famed tau kwa of 蔡厝港斗母宫. Here we have 龙南殿’s committee visiting while carrying their incense censer.image185.pngimage187.jpg


Visiting Other Temples

Out of respect, 蔡厝港斗母宫 will arrange a 参拜 (visit) to the various affiliated Nine Emperor Gods temple too. After a long bus ride, they would arrive at the temples, which are mostly located in the East, pay their respect and mingle around with the committee from the other temples. They would also carry a basket of offerings (as pictured above) and give it to the temple.

There are many other temples that came to pay respect at 蔡厝港斗母宫. The committee members of the temple, as well as the 金鼓队 members, will line up at the entrance of Tao Bu Keng temple, cheering as they welcome or bid farewell to the assemblage from the other temples.





Crossing the Bridge of Blessing

During the eighth day of the celebration, there will be a 过平安桥仪式, loosely translated as the crossing of the peace bridge. The bridge will be erected at the tentage area. Before the crossing of the bridge, there will be a ritual held to place the five generals (安五营) at the bridge area.  The Fifth Emperor will also arrive earlier to set up the five directions and conduct a weapon ritual to clear the route that will be taken during the prosperity bridge ritual.

Subsequently, the other eight Emperor Gods will also arrive, to bless the devotees who are crossing the bridge. They will divide themselves, four before the bridge, four after the bridge, and the First Emperor God at a position after the bridge. Those stationed before the bridge will bless the devotees with their incense paper, while those at the back will bless the devotees with their flags, while the helper beside them will chop on the devotees’ shirts.



Vegetarian Feasts (8th & 9th Days)

During the early afternoon of both the eighth and the ninth day of the celebration, tables of vegetarian feast will be prepared at the tentage area. Devotees who have pre-purchased the tables will arrive at their allocated lot and wait for the Nine Emperor Gods to bless them and their food before the feasting begins. This practice of having tables of vegetarian feast can be tracked all the way back to the older kampung days – but there is a difference whereby in the past, the feast is prepared by the villagers, nowadays, only a few of them continues this practice of bringing their own vegetarian snacks and meals to get blessed. The turnout for the second day of the feast, which boasts a hundred tables, is more massive than the first day, where there was less than half in comparison.


The highlight of the vegetarian feast is the rampant grabbing of the blessed delicacies. Committee members and devotees will gather around the tables that are filled with delicacies, and when they are given the green light to start grabbing the food, they will do so – in lightning speed – in order to get as many “blessings” as they can.


During the ninth day of the celebration, which is also the last day of the festival, the temple will  send off the  Nine Emperor Gods. Before that happens, there will be a ritual done by the Taoist Priest to invite the Jade Emperor in the morning, and to send off the Jade Emperor in the afternoon.    Thus, before the sending off of the Nine Emperor Gods later that evening, the priest also conducts a 犒军 ritual alongside the sending back of the Jade Emperor.image213.jpg

After nine dynamic days, the celebration draws to a close with the sending-off of the Nine Emperor Gods.  Preparations for this big night had begun days before. The ritual begins with the Nine Emperor Gods arriving through the spirit mediums before leaving for the sandy plains in Tuas.  They then proceed on a short procession along the perimeter of the temple with the nine palanquins, the three vanguard palanquins过山轿s, and the 斗母娘娘’s Dipper Mother’s sedan. All these will be accompanied by the thundering rolls of the drum troupe 金鼓队 as well as the lion dance troupe.image215.jpgimage217.jpgimage219.jpgimage221.pngLastly, before leaving for Tuas, the Nine Emperor Gods will always make time for an opera performance by the opera troupe.

image223.pngimage225.png(as pictured: For health or for wealth, thousands of devotees hoping to get blessed by the Nine Emperor Gods, line up orderly on the road, waiting patiently for their arrival.)image227.jpgimage229.jpgimage231.jpgimage233.jpgimage235.jpgimage239.jpgimage237.jpg(as pictured: The palanquins paying respect to the Jade Emperor and Nine Emperor Gods altar before leaving for Tuas.)image241.jpgimage243.jpgimage245.jpgimage247.jpgimage249.jpgLike on the night of the receiving, the sedan chairs, spirit mediums, and volunteers travel to the beach on lorries.  After disembarking upon arriving there, they were greeted by lion and dragon dance troupes.  Many devotees also lined the way hoping for blessings from the Nine Emperor Gods. image251.jpgimage253.gifimage254.jpgimage256.jpgimage258.jpgUpon arrival at the beach, the Taoist Priest will conduct the ritual to send off the Nine Emperor Gods and they will soon leave their spirit mediums. The dragon ship will also be burnt as part of the rituals .image260.jpg

The Dragon Ship

The form of the Dragon Ship was based on legend and imagination.  According to the different stories of the Nine Emperor Gods, many people believed that the Nine Emperor Gods would leave on a Dragon Ship.  They believed that they could send things from the human world to other worlds  (be it the Heavenly world or the Netherworld).  Hence they created a paper ship that could be burnt, for the Nine Emperor Gods to depart on them.  Hence, the Dragon Boat came to have great significance in the sending off ceremony. image262.png(as pictured: The symbolic dragon boat – to send well-wishes of the devotees to the god as well as to send off bad luck from the previous year – stands in full glory at the tentage area.)image264.png(as pictured: The dragon boat, roaring in flames, after the sending back of the Nine Emperor Gods, signifying the end of the festival.)

Previously, 蔡厝港斗母宫 designed and created a grand wooden dragon boat, made up of materials they got from the old palanquins. However, they are still in the process of refurbishing it, hence, devotees will only get to see it much later. For the celebration last year and even for the upcoming one, devotees will only get to see the paper dragon boat which will be burned on the last day of the celebration.

After the whole Sending Water ritual, the committee members get back to the lorries that sent them to the beach area, as they make their way back to the temple.image266.jpgWith various activities lined up throughout the 10 days of celebration, 蔡厝港斗母宫 remains very lively and colourful throughout the festival period.

image268.jpgimage270.png(as pictured: Lion dance troupes, invited by various devotees and committee members, arrive on different days to celebrate the festival.)


Although many temples and traditional cultures are facing the problem of succession and attracting new and young members,  Tao Bu Keng temple is thriving with youth.  There is something within the temple that keeps the young blood flowing.  The veterans at Tao Bu Keng bring their own children to the temple, introducing them to and immersing them in the culture. The young ones do have a choice to decide whether to follow their parents.  Nevertheless, the bonds that they had developed, and the ties that they had formed, were reasons good enough for them to continue visiting and helping out in the temple.   They also help to introduce this culture to their friends and peers.   The Tao Bu Keng community is always welcoming anyone who has an interest in the culture to come and learn.  Hence, interested devotees should not hesitate to ask for more details about the festival or volunteer to help out in the celebrations.

After a tedious nine days celebration, and many days of prior preparation, the Nine Emperor Gods festivals comes to an end on the ninth day of the lunar ninth month. Committee members, palanquin bearers, and helpers bid goodbye with a tinge of melancholy and unwillingness, as the next time they meet will be during next year’s celebration.


Last but not least, the censers, which were invited back to the temple before the start of the festival, were invited back to the homes of the temple patrons and placed on the altars.  A new talisman was then placed above the altar, and another talisman was burnt in the censer.   This marks the end of the celebrations. See you again next year!



Our very sincere thanks to the committee of Tao Bu Keng temple in Choa Chu Kang for their support and assistance during our documentation project.

Text and Photos by Team Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Team 2016/2017 (Alessia Ng, Lee Zhenying, Chung Kai Sin, Madeline Gwee, Charmaine Yew, Chia JIelin, Shawn Tham, Lim Jiaying, Teo Zhewei,  Zulhaqem, Han Junguang, Ang Zhiting, Lee Zhenyi, Nicole Lim)

Team Leader:  Lin Chia Tsun

The Project Team (through the Principal Investigator) and the National Heritage Board of Singapore own the rights to the photos and photo essays on this website unless stated otherwise.

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