Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2016
The last week of the eighth lunar month, preparations are afoot for the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival at the Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan Qing Nan Lao Yu Lou Chun 玄武山翰林院青囊老玉楼春 temple. A fixture in Kim Yam Road and Mohammad Sultan Lane neighborhood between the 1960s and 1980s, the festival is now held in Jurong East Street 21, next to BLK 238.
Mr Ng (far left) and Mrs Ng (far right) run “玄武山“
The temple first started with Mrs Ng’s father, Mr. Lim, who had arrived in Singapore via Siam and Malaya with the incense ash from the Xuan Wu Shan temple in China. He was the owner of an opera troupe, which was also based in the same address at Kim Yam Road.
A discussion on the history of the temple’s name “玄武山翰林院青襄老玉楼春” (Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan Lao Yu Lou Chun) reveals the dynamic history of the temple and its close associations with the Teochew opera troupes owned by Mr Lim. The name “Han Lin Yuan” came about as a result of a friend of Mr. Lim borrowing the incense ash from the temple to establish a new Nine Emperor Gods temple at Mangga Kar [Boon Keng Road]. This new temple was called “Han Lin Yuan”. Before his passing, he had told Mrs. Ng that he wanted to to return the incense ashes 香火 to the temple. In accordance with his wishes, Mrs. Ng incorporated the name of his temple into the name of her father’s temple. The addition of “Qing Nang Lao Yu Lou Chun” came about because it was the name of the family’s opera troupe and Mrs. Ng’s father had entrusted her with preserving the name of the troupe before he passed on. Hence, she incorporated the troupe’s name to the name of the temple as well.
Xuan Wu Shan hosts the Nine Emperor God’s Festival every year. Preparations begin with the unloading of all the equipment (eg. Tent, sedan chairs, banners) used during the festival from the container where it is stored, and the setting-up of the area where the festival is being held.
Unloading all the equipment can take up the entire day. Once that is done, the helpers start to set up the banners, clean the equipment, as well as to prepare the inner room where the NEG will be housed once the festival begins.
Mr Ng gives instructions to his two god-grandsons on the setup. They have been helping out at the festival since they were children.
The end of a hard day’s work on the first day
Next few days…Preparation Stages
Over the next few days (26 – 29 Sep 2017) the various elements needed for the festivals are prepared.
ALTAR SET-UP 架设神坛
The four altars for the deities of the festival are set up.
Figure 1: Jade Emperor Altar
Figure 2: 5 Heavenly Generals
Figure 3: Main deities of the temple. They include Da Bo Gong, the Bodhisattva Guan Yin, Ji Gong, Ma Zu, Fa Zhu Gong, and the Tai Sui.
Carrying down the deities for the “Zong Sheng” (众神) altar
The inner chamber is sealed off, except for select people. However, devotees can still place offerings in front of the altar. During the festival, the sedan chair sits inside the room, except when visiting other temples.
The people who take care of the inner room must wear yellow pants. Here, they are Ah Xiang (阿祥) and Mr. Albert Ng (A son of Mr. Ng).
There is a Tiger Deity on the edge of the tentage.
THE DRAGON SHIP
The dragon boat is made in Singapore by Yeo Swee Huat. It’s made of paper with bamboo and one more layer of coloured paper and one more aluminum layer.
The boat has opera figurines to ensure that the boat will move and go smoothly. The bottom of the boat stores oil, salt and rice packets as offerings.
PREPARING THE EQUIPMENT
The temple also maintains all the equipment needed for the festival. The chairs for the spirit mediums, urn for the ashes and tables are touched up and cleaned.
Some of the flags used for the festival are also hand-made by Mr and Mrs Ng in order to reduce costs.
Raising the Nine lamps
On the 29th, the temple sets up the 9 Lamps for the NEG. The temple uses a stalk of bamboo from Lim Chu Kang to hang the “Tian Gong Den” （天宫灯）.
The picture above shows the Nine lamps (九盏天灯)
THE SEDAN CHAIR 轿子
Xuan Wu Shan has only one sedan chair. This sedan consists of three levels, with Dou Mu Niang Niang occupying the bottom layer, followed by the Nine Emperor Gods and the Jade Emperor respectively. This chair is carried only by women.
The three levels of the chair are: Left: Top is the Imperial Edict, Right: Second is Nine Emperor Gods, Left: Lower layer Dou Mu Niang Niang.
The preparations and set-up for the festival last for four days. On 30 September, the temple gets ready to receive the Nine Emperor Gods
The Start of the Nine Emperor God Festival！！
The entrance to the NEG’s altar is closed off.
In the pictures, it shows the setting the tools for rituals in front of “Zong Sheng” (众神) altar. Preparing the tools for the ritual of inviting deities (on the spirit medium’s physical body). The music instruments are also cleaned up in preparation.
At 5 30pm, the main ritual begins. Temple members change into white clothing, and those who are heavily involved in the ritual also tie a yellow sash on their waists.
To begin, Mr. Ng makes talismans to be placed on all altars in the venue. The talismans are meant to protect the venue. Sticking the talismans around the 4 corners of the temple
As shown in the picture above, Mr Ng goes around the altars of the venue with talisman water. He would drink a gulp of water, then place rice into each corner. Followed up with that, he would use the handle of the whip to draw the talisman in mid-air, whips, sprayed water and ask the others to place the “Hui Ling Qi”挥令旗 in each of the corners.
The lion dance troupe starts to play the drums and gongs. The spirit medium for Xuan Tian Shang Di arrives. After praying at each of the altars, purifying his body and the chair, the deity was invited down by the medium.
After that, he performs “Kai Guang” (开光) to consecrate the various paper statues such as the dragon boat and horses of the Five Generals. He then returns to the ”Zong Sheng” （众神） altar to write talismans for the ladies who will be carrying the sedan chair. (refer to the pictures below)
As this happens, the lion dance troupe pays respects to the altars as well.
Next, Qi Tian Da Sheng (齐天大圣) descendsinto his spirit medium, puts on his costume and pays respects to the altars.
The sedan chair is then carried out of the inner room.
The censers of Dou Mu Niang Niang and the Nine Emperor Gods are also carried out.
The sedan chair pays respects at all three altars, followed by the censers.
The sedan chair, spirit mediums and censers then leave the venue for the receiving at Changi Beach. Before they can depart, the magic rope is struck (9 times for the chair) at the entrance to the tentage. The Xuan Tian Shang Di is greeted by the lions before they let him and the censers pass.
Arrival at the beach
Inviting the Nine Emperor Gods
Upon arriving at Changi Beach, the contingent heads to the sea shore. Here, two things happen simultaneously. (1) Sand from the beach is collected and put into the censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang and Nine Emperor Gods. “Wu Fang Qi” (五方旗) is placed on the beach to call the Five Generals. (2) The censers are brought to the sedan chair, which devotees have placed on a mat to dedicate incense, tea and other offerings. The basket with incense and a lit lamp are also brought along.
After that, all participants kneel down. Mr Ng’s son, Albert, reads the chant which is used to invite the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Niang Niang.
After obtaining a “Sheng Bei” (聖杯) with the divination blocks, Mr. Ng and Mrs. Ng dedicate incense. While Mrs. Ng was offering incense, “Guan Yin” (观音) descended upon her.
After that, the contingent packs the ritual paraphernalia, and leaves the beach for the festival tentage. Incense is placed in the censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang and the Nine Emperor Gods. Ah Xiang strikes the magical rope to clear the way for the sedan chair, Guan Yin, Xuan Tian Shang Di and the Qi Tian Da Sheng.
Upon arriving back at the temple, the sedan chair pays respects at all the altars, before it is carried back into the inner room and the deities leave their spirit mediums.
In the pictures above, Guan Yin and Qi Tian Da Sheng leave their spirit mediums.
After the receiving, devotees come to the festival area to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods and other deities in the temple, offering incense, fruits, and tea.
1 and 3 – A devotee makes an offering to the Nine Emperor Gods
2 – Devotees buy incense coils, which are hung up by the temple members.
Rewarding the Heavenly Armies
Food offerings for the deities and the Five Generals. These are prepared daily.
Visits from Other Temples
However, there are still events that take place throughout the nine days of the festival. This year, Xuan Wu Shan receives visits from four other Nine Emperor Gods temples – 龍南殿, 鳳山宮, 汫水港斗母宮 and 南北斗母宮.
Visits from other temples typically follow this structure: First, devotees from the temple will arrive to pay their respects and eat some food. Then, the lion dance troupe and sedan chairs of the other temples will arrive as part of the main contingent. Xuan Wu Shan’s own lion dance troupe and vanguards will welcome the contingent. The visiting sedan chairs will pay respects to all the altars, and the temple leaders will exchange gifts (typically a fruit basket) and incense. The magic whip is struck three times when the sedan chairs enter or leave the venue. After the visit, Xuan Wu Shan’s own lions will pay respect to all the deities in the festival area.
龍南殿 Leong Nam Temple
In the picture, the devotees from the visiting temple are enjoying the food prepared
In the picture：Leong Nam Temple Lion Dance Troupe and the Xuan Wu Shan vanguard
In the picture: The Lion Dance troupes from both temples greet each other
In the picture：The main contingent and palanquins from Leong Nam Temple pay respects at the altar
Feng Shan Temple 鳳山宮
In the picture：Exchange of Fruit Baskets
In the picture：Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong paying respects and exchanging gifts.
Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong 南北斗母宮
Charity Dinner for Senior Citizens
On the 5th day of the festival, the temple hosts a vegetarian dinner for old folks who live nearby.
Consecrating the Nine Emperor Gods Divination Blocks and Divination Lots / 开杯 与 九皇签
After a ceremony led by Mrs Ng and the other helpers in the inner chamber, devotees and helpers could ask the Nine Emperor Gods about their fortune and about the outcome of their projects.
After the consecration of blocks and lots on the late night of the 5th day (technically the beginning of the 6th day), devotees and temple helpers can use them to consult the Nine Emperor Gods until the end of the festival. ,The “Bua Bui”(博杯) is also opened, ash from the joss stick is put in and it is turned over three times.
Activating the Divination Blocks In the Inner Chamber
CROSSING THE BRIDGE OF BLESSING
Another major ritual of the NEG Festival is crossing the Bridge of Blessing. The bridge is first set up, with the necessary elements for the ritual – swords, a ball of nails, and buckets at the sides of the bridge for the devotees to drop in coins.
In the picture, the spirit medium for Qi Tian Da Sheng is getting ready.
Picture is an area for devotees is set aside for them to queue and wait.
Qi Tian Da Sheng is invited. He pays respects at each of the altars, then prepares talismans for the ritual.
After that, he “cleanses” each side of the bridge, by striking the cleansing whip, throwing rice, and spitting water. At the start, middle and end of the bridge, he whips the ground and cuts his back with the sword (start and middle) and hits his back with the ball with nails (end). Each time, he spits talisman water on the knife or ball of nails. After a number of strikes, Ah Xiang stops him with a flag. The wounds are covered with a talisman.
For the second part of the ritual, the devotees line up with joss sticks, a stack of joss paper and talisman paper. One by one, they stand in front of Qi Tian Da Sheng. He sprays water at them, cracks the whip, and then waves the joss stick and incense paper over them. After that the devotees goes to the Jade Emperor’s altar to pray.
Interestingly, some devotees bring clothing for people who cannot be physically there to be blessed.
Guan Yin arrives after the spirit medium sits down in the chair. After getting into costume, she pays respects at each altar, then crosses the bridge. She waits at the end of the bridge.
After being blessed by Qi Tian Da Sheng and paying respects to Tian Gong, devotees cross the bridge and drop coins into buckets at the side.
Once on the other side, Guan Yin stamps the back of the devotee’s t-shirts with the seal. If the person is not there, the shirt is laid out on the back of the spirit medium’s chair to be stamped.
Overall, there were 4 stations. 1. Devotees stand in front of Qi Tian Da Sheng. He blows water at them, whips the floor, and then waves the joss stick and book over them.
Sending Off the Nine Emperor Gods
On the 9th day, it is time to send off the Nine Emperor Gods. For Xuan Wu Shan, it also means a day of visiting the other temples. The day starts bright and early at the temple, with preparations like decorating the lorries and taking down the bamboo, which will be brought along to the beach for the sending-off of the Nine Emperor Gods.
One of the helpers practices using the whip. It will be part of the rituals when visiting the other temples later.
The dragon boat is also carried out to be loaded onto the lorries. Before it leaves, it pays respects at all the altars.
The spirit medium for Qi Tian Da Sheng prays at the altars. He will be accompanying the temple on all its visits today, as well as to the beach. After praying, he cracks the cleansing whip, and prepares for the arrival of the deity.
Qi Tian Da Sheng arrives and is dressed in his costume. He pays respects at all the altars, and then begins to write talismans for the ladies carrying the sedan chair. One is burnt for the talisman water. The ladies each keep another folded talisman with them.
After that, the sedan chair is brought out from the inner room. The censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang and the Nine Emperor Gods, a lantern, and a basket with the sandalwood are also brought out. They pay respects at each altar (first the sedan chair, then the censers, then the lions). At the entrance to the venue, Ah Xiang cracks the whip 9 times before the sedan chair passes between the lions.
The yew keng and sending-off contingent sets off in three lorries and the cars of other devotees. En route to sending off the Nine Emperor Gods at Changi Beach, they will be visiting six other temples in the following order: Jiu Huang Dian 玉封九皇殿, Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong 汫水港斗母宫， Long Nan Dian 龙南殿, Hougang Dou Mu Gong 后港斗母宫, Feng Shan Gong 凤山宫, Kim San Tze 金山寺斗山宫.
When the lorries arrive at each stop, the contingent prepares for the formal entrance into the temples. The procession is led by the vanguard (who cracks the cleansing whip), and is followed by the lion dance troupes. After the exchanges between the visiting and host vanguards, the lions enter the temple and pay respects at each altar.
After that, the main contingent from the temple enters the temple. It is led by a helper carrying the Black Flag. He is then followed by Qi Tian Da Sheng, then the Nine Emperor Gods sedan chair. Before the sedan chair enters the temple, Ah Xiang, the vanguard, cracks the whip three times at the entrance. The sedan chair is greeted by a representative from the temple, before the vanguard from the host temple cracks the cleansing whip three times. The sedan chair enters. Next, before the Qi Tian Da Sheng enters the temple, the vanguards for both sides crack the cleansing whip, before the vanguard of the host temple cracks the whip another three times. The Great Sage then enters. Inside, the sedan chair pays respects at all three altars, along with the incense censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang and Nine Emperor Gods, and Qi Tian Da Sheng. If the sedan chairs of the host temple are activated for the visit , they pay respects to each other as well.
And if necessary, the incense stick on the lantern is swapped out for a fresh one.
The same procedure is performed when the Xuan Wu Shan contingent leaves the temple. The cracking of the whips by the vanguards on both sides, and then by the vanguard of the host temple. The sedan chair leaves. The whip is cracked by the host temple’s vanguard, then The Great Sage leaves. Finally, the whip is cracked again by the host temple, and then the urns for Dou Mu Niang Niang and Nine Emperor Gods leave.
Jiu Huang Dian玉封九皇殿
Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong 汫水港
In the picture：Exchange of incense
Leong Nam Temple龙南殿
In the picture，Exchange of incense
Incense sticks are swapped from the urns of dou mu niang niang and the Nine Emperor Gods incense from the host temple incense’s urn
Right picture：Taking a break
Hougang Tou Mu Kung 后港斗母宫
Kim San Tze金山寺斗山宫
Sending-off the Nine Emperor Gods (Changi)
After leaving the last temple, XWS heads to Changi Beach to send off the NEG. The sedan chair is set up again, similar to how it was during the receiving ceremony.
Meanwhile, other helpers prepare the dragon ship to be sent off. They place the joss paper offerings and red lanterns into the ship.
Flags set up on the beach.
Once the sedan chair is properly set-up, the entourage kneels with their hands together or holding joss sticks. Mr Ng’s son, Albert, reads the chants to send off the Nine Emperor Gods. The divination blocks are used again to seek approval for the success of the ritual.
The Nine Emperor Gods depart and .the dragon boat is set aflame and pushed out to sea.
At the same time, the censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang and Nine Emperor Gods are carried out and emptied into the sea. The bamboo is also pushed out to sea.
Qi Tian Da Sheng whips the five directions on the beach?.
After that, most of the helpers and devotees head back to the temple. Some stayed behind to pull back the float that the dragon ship was placed on after the ship had finished burning and clean up the sending-off site.
The Festival has come to an end. The Nine Emperor Gods have been sent back, and over the next few days, the equipment will be packed up again and the deities moved back upstairs to the flat, and the area is transformed from makeshift temple back to a basketball court. Until next year…
Text and Photos by Team Xuan Wu Shan 2016-2017 (Belicia Teo, Cheok Jia Ying, Yang Zhi Thung, Chris Lee, Leong Jia Min, Gracia Ow, Prof. Kaori Fushiki)
Special thanks to Prof. Kaori Fushiki for leading the team here from 2016-2017.
Our very sincere thanks to the committee of Xuan Wu Shan temple for their support and assistance during our documentation project.
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.