Xuan Wu Shan Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2017
The time has once again come for the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival at the Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan Qing Nang Lao Yu Lou Chun玄武山翰林院青囊老玉楼春. The temple has been around in Singapore since the 1960s, previously a fixture in the Kim Yam Road and Mohammad Sultan Lane neighborhood.
Today, the temple finds its home in Jurong East, and celebrations for the festival are held at Jurong East Street 21, next to Block 238.
The temple is managed by a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ng. Mrs. Ng’s father, Mr. Lim, was the founder of the temple. He had arrived in Singapore via Siam and Malaya with the incense ash from Xuan Wu Shan 玄武山 temple in China.
Preparation Stages 《筹备阶段》
Preparations for the festival this year began on the 15th of October. Firstly, all the equipment (tents, sedan chairs, flags, banners) used during the festival are unloaded from the container where they are stored. The festival area is then set up – there are 4 altars, a kitchen, as well as a main table.
After the equipment is unloaded, banners need to be set up, equipment has to be cleaned and the altars have to be prepared. One of the most important features to be prepared is the inner room, where the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大 will be housed once the festival begins.
Mr. and Mrs. Ng are assisted by helpers both young and old.
The layout of the festival area this year differs slightly from last year. The kitchen and eating area have been shifted to the other side of the basketball court.
The kitchen now is now located under one of the HDB shelters. The eating area has been shifted as well.
The four altars for the deities of the festival are set up.
The Jade Emperor
The 5 Heavenly Generals
The Five Heavenly Generals 五营将军 correspond to the Five Cardinal Directions, Five Elements and Five Colours. They protect the festival ground and environs safe for its duration.
The main deities of the temple. They include Da Bo Gong, the Bodhisattva Guanyin, Ji Gong, Mazu, FA Zhu Gong, and the Taisui.
The Nine Emperor Gods
The inner chamber of the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝’s altar is sealed off, except for a select few. 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 DRAGON SHIP 《龙船》
Made of paper and bamboo, the dragon ship is one of the key features of the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 festival.
The boat has figurines based on opera characters and the Eight Immortals to ensure that the boat will move and go smoothly.
The bottom of the boat stores oil, salt and rice packets as offerings.
Raising the Nine Lamps 升起九皇灯
The temple raises the nine lamps for the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝.
The Nine Lamps are raised on the last day of the eight lunar month. The lamps are kept lit throughout the nine days of the festival as a sign of continuous divine presence. The lamps also serve to invite divinities to the temple to celebrate the festival.
THE SEDAN CHAIR 轿子
Xuan Wu Shan 玄武山 is unique amongst the temples that celebrate the Nine Emperor Gods Festival as it only has one sedan chair. Furthermore, this chair is carried only by women. This sedan consists of three levels, with the Dou Mu Niang Niang 斗母娘娘 occupying the bottom layer, followed by the Nine Emperor Gods九皇大帝 and the Jade Emperor represented by his decree tablet 圣旨牌respectively.
The Start of the Nine Emperor God Festival
Two days before the receiving ceremony, Mr. Ng and his helpers prepare talismans to be placed on the altars in the festival ground as well as around the four corners of the designated area.
These talismans are meant to protect the venue.
On the day of the receiving, the inner chamber is sealed off and preparations start for the journey to the seashore. Those that are heavily involved in the receiving ceremony (such as the sedan chair bearers) tie a yellow sash around their waists.
As shown in the pictures above, Mr Ng goes around the altars of the venue with talisman water. He drinks a gulp of water, then throws rice over each altar. He then uses the handle of the whip to draw the talisman in mid-air, cracks the whip, and sprays water. The same is done around the four corners of the temple, as well as at its middle point.
Mr. Ng prepares talismans as well as talisman water for those who are involved in the ritual and for the ritual use.
The spirit mediums purify themselves and the chair and the lion dance troupe starts to play the drums and cymbals 鑼鼓. First, the spirit medium for Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖 invites the deity down.
Next, Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅comes down into his spirit medium. Both deities pay respect to the altars.
After that, Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 makes talismans and talisman water for the bearers of the sedan chair.
The whip is cracked outside the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 altar and the sedan chair is brought out.
The sedan chair pays respects at all the altars, followed by the incense burners.
After that, the temple contingent leaves the venue. Before each of them exits the venue, the whip is cracked (9 times for the sedan chair) and the lion dancers part to make way for them.
The sedan chair, the spirit mediums and other key members of the receiving ceremony ride to the seashore in a lorry, while the rest of the participants take a bus.
Inviting the Nine Emperor Gods《请神》
Once the lorry arrives at Changi Beach, the sedan chair, lion dancers and spirit mediums all disembark. Before the contingent can enter the path leading to the beach, the whip is cracked. This time, the spirit mediums enter the path to the beach before the sedan chair.
The whip is also cracked midway to the beach.
Once the sedan chair reaches the seashore, two things happen simultaneously. Firstly, sand is collected from the beach and placed in the incense burners for Dou Mu Niang Niang斗母娘娘 and the Nine Emperor Gods九皇大帝. The incense burners are brought the sedan chair, which has been placed on a mat with xiang, tea and other offerings. The basket of incense as well as a lit lamp are placed there as well.
In the meantime, the Flags of the Five Directions (Wu Fang Ling Qi 五方令旗) are placed on the beach to summon the Five Generals. Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 whips and sprays water over the five points.
After that everyone kneels down. Some members of the temple offer incense.
Mr Ng’s son, Albert is in charge of carrying out the receiving ritual. In his hand, he holds a paper with the prayer for the ritual written on it. After reading it aloud, he burns it. Then, he throws the divination blocks (筊杯)。An auspicious outcome (胜杯) indicates that the Nine Emperor Gods have arrived. Members of the entourage then offer their incense in the censers of the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Niang Niang.
Gods 九皇大帝 have come down, everything is packed up. Before the contingent leaves the beach, the whip is cracked.
Mr. Ng, the ritual leader, cracks his whip in the five directions again.
Incense is placed in the censers filled with sand.
The temple then leaves the beach.
Upon arrival at the temple, the whip is cracked before the sedan chair and the rest of the contingent can enter. The sedan chair pays respects to all the altars before being brought into the inner room.
After a short rest, the temple gets ready to 拜天公. A smaller contingent, consisting of the senior temple members and the spirit mediums kneel at the altar.
Albert again invites the deity down.
After that, each person pours three cups of tea onto the ground.
Next, Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 consecrates the dragon ship by marking its paper figurines with red dots and writes down lucky numbers.
The deities are then sent off.
After the receiving ceremony, devotees come to make offerings.
Devotees offer incense to the Nine Emperor Gods
Daily Food Offerings 每日的供品
Food is also offered to the deities on a daily basis. The food is freshly prepared in the kitchen area.
The tea for the deities is also changed on a daily basis.
Consecration OF TALISMANS 开光仪式
Aside from coming to the temple to make offerings, devotees also come to the temple with their home deities for consecration by Mr. and Mrs. Ng.
Mrs. Ng is also a spirit medium. During the nine days, she would invite Ma Zu 妈祖 to the festival, so as to help consecrate the devotees’ spiritual items.
In the pictures above, the goddess Mazu 妈祖helps devotees consecrate their talismans.
The deities also offer devotees advice and remedies for health problems. Some devotees specially come to see deities such as Mazu for their problems. While deities like Mazu are specially invited to allow devotees and temple members consult them, other deities, like Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖 offer advice whenever they attend the key festival rituals. In the pictures below, Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖 helps devotees with some of their ailments in the middle of the receiving ceremony.
The other deity that devotees turn to for help is Mazu妈祖, through the spirit medium: Mrs. Ng.
In the pictures above, she prepares talismans for a devotee and his mother. The talismans are to be burnt and the ashes mixed with water for them to drink.
VISITS FROM OTHER TEMPLES
Xuan Wu Shan 玄武山 receives visits from four other Nine Emperor Gods temples during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
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. Xuan Wu Shan’s 玄武山 own lion dance troupe will welcome the visitors. 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玄武山 own lions will pay respect to all the deities in the festival area.
Several times during visits the lion dance troupe were unable to be there. The lion heads would instead be placed at the front of the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 altar.
Visitors came from Jiu Huang Dian
The whip is struck before the temple contingent enters or leaves the venue.
Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong
Exchanging incense with the visiting temple.
Exchanging gift baskets with the visiting temples.
Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong
Kim San Tze
Charity Dinner for Senior Citizens
On the 5th day of the festival, the temple hosts a vegetarian dinner for old folks who live nearby.
Activating the Divination Blocks and The Nine Emperor Divination Lots / 开杯 与 九皇签
After that, in the late night of the 5th day, the consecration and activation of the Nine Emperor Gods divination blocks (九皇圣杯) and divination lots (九皇签) and the consultation of the Nine Emperor Gods (问神) by divination lots started. The consultation starts from the early hours of the 6th day (from 11pm on the night of the 5th day) and continues until the end of the festival. The divination blocks are also opened, ash from the joss sticks in the Inner Chamber is put in and it is turned over three times.
After a ceremony led by Mrs Ng and the other helpers in the inner chamber, devotees and helpers could ask the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 about their fortune and about the outcome of their projects. This time Xuan Tian Shang Di 玄天上帝 is also invited to answer the questions that devotees have about their fortunes.
CROSSING THE BRIDGE OF BLESSING AND CHU HUA YUAN 过平安桥与出花园
This year, in addition to the Bridge of Blessing (平安桥） ritual, the temple is also carrying out the Chu Hua Yuan (出花园) ritual for one of its members who has turned 15. The ritual takes place on the 21st of October, on the 3rd day of the festival. The Chu Hua Yuan ceremony is a Teochew coming-of-age ceremony. Before reaching adulthood, children are sheltered ‘in a garden’. However, once they are 15, they leave the garden as they are able to live independently.
Firstly, the set-up for both rituals are prepared.
Mr. Ng placed a basket on the floor, surrounded by 5 candles and bunches of flowers. This is meant to symbolize a garden. After that, he placed an umbrella, bag and a pair of red wooden slippers there.
The helpers preparing flower water for the end of the ritual.
Preparing the tools that the deities will use for the rituals later.
Next, Guan Yin 观音娘娘 is called down to perform the Chu Hua Yuan ritual.
The boy stands in the middle of the round rattan tray as Guan Yin 观音娘娘 approaches him with bunches of flowers. Guan Yin 观音娘娘then instructs him to leave the garden by stepping out of the tray.
Guan Yin 观音娘娘throws aside the bouquets that were originally placed around the basket.
Then, holding an umbrella, he steps out into the pair of red slippers. He holds on to end of Guan Yin’s 观音娘娘 whisk and follows her around. They walk between the five lights that have been placed on the ground.
After that, they stop in front of the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 altar. The bag is pulled down slightly and Guan Yin 观音娘娘 stamps the back of a shirt laid over the boy.
The umbrella is then closed and stowed in the back. The boy again follows Guan Yin 观音娘娘 in between the candles. They stop at the altar where the boy offers incense. The ritual is complete.
Next, the Crossing the Bridge of Blessing (Guo Ping An Qiao) ritual begins. Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 and Qi Tian Da Sheng 齐天大圣 are invited. Guan Yin 观音娘娘 prepares talismans for the ritual.
The two deities pay respects at all the altars after their arrival.
Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 prepares the four corners of the bridge by striking the cleansing whip, spraying water and waving a flag. Next, at the start, middle and end of the bridge, he whips the ground and hits his back with nails (twice at the start) and cuts his back with a sword (middle). Each time, he spits talisman water on the knife or ball of nails. After a number of cuts Ah Xiang stops him with a flag.
Before stepping up and down the bridge, Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 spears buns that have been laid there.
The wounds are covered with a talisman. Next, Qi Tian Da Sheng
Guan Yin 观音娘娘 then crosses the bridge.
For the second part of the ritual, the devotees line up with joss sticks, a stack of joss paper and a piece of talisman paper. One by one, they stand in front of Zhong Tan Yuan Shuai 中坛元帅 . He spits water at them, whips the floor, and then waves the joss stick and book over them. After that the devotees cross the bridge.
Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖 sits at the middle of the bridge, where he stamps the back of people’s shirts.
Inbetween people, Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖 teases his helpers, doing things like stamping their cheeks, spitting water and leaving banana peels on unsuspecting heads.
Some attendees also bring t-shirts or other clothing articles in place of people.
After the ritual is complete, everyone crosses the bridge once again.
Under the guidance of Mr. Ng, Ah Xiang takes a pose in front of the temple’s altar (while holding on to a stick of incense. This is a meditation practice meant to strengthen one’s spiritual power.
Sending Off 送神
On the 28th (the 9th day of the lunar 9th month), it is time to send off the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 and Dou Mu Niang Niang 斗母娘娘. Xuan Wu Shan also visits other temples before they send off the deities at Changi Beach. The day starts with preparations – the lorries are decorated and the nine lamps are lowered.
The dragon ship is also loaded onto the lorries. Before it leaves the venue, it pays respects at all the altars.
Talismans are prepared for the helpers, as well as the bearers of the sedan chair. This year, unlike the last, Xuan Wu Shan does not have deities accompanying them for the sending off.
After that, the sedan chair is brought out from the inner room. The censers for Dou Mu Niang Niang 斗母娘娘 and the Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝, a lantern, and a basket with sandalwood are also brought out from the Inner Chamber. They pay respects at each altar (first the sedan chair, then the tubs, then the lions). At the entrance to the venue, the whipped is cracked 9 times before the sedan chair passes between the lions. The colour of the lions is also different today.
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 seven other temples in the following order: Jiu Huang Dian 玉封九皇殿,– Jing Shui Gang Doumu Gong汫水港斗母宫—Leong Nam Temple龙南殿—Hougang Dou Mu Gong后港斗母宫—Hong San Keong凤山宫—Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong南北斗母官—Kim San Tze金山寺斗山宫.
The devotees, in their cars, arrive first at the temples. They will be welcomed by the host temple, exchange greetings with the helpers and devotees there, and usually eat and take refreshments before the arrival of the main contingent.
After that, the lorries arrive and the contingent prepares for the formal entrance into the temples. The procession is led by the vanguard (who cracks the cleansing whip), and 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 the Nine Emperor Gods sedan chair. Before the sedan chair enters the temple, Ah Xiang, the vanguard, cracks the cleansing 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. Inside, the sedan chair pays respects at all three altars, along with the incense tubs for Dou Mu Niang Niang斗母娘娘 and the Nine Emporer Gods 九皇菩薩, and Qi Tian Da Sheng斉天大聖. If the sedan chairs of the host temple are activated for the visit, they pay respects to each other as well.
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. Finally, the whip is cracked again by the host temple, and then the urns for斗母娘娘 and 九皇菩薩 leave.
Jiu Huang Dian
Jing Shui Gang Doumu Gong
Gift exchanged from the host temple.
The temple’s sedan chair welcomes Xuan Wu Shan’s sedan chair at the entrance.
Mrs. Ng and the leader of 汫水港斗母宫
Leong Nam Temple
The devotees of Xuan Wu Shan put down the sedan chair and the holder for the urns to take a short break at Long Nan Dian. They eat some food prepared by the temple. Some devotees also sought the temple monks for blessings.
Hougang Dou Mu Gong
Hong San Keong
Xuan Wu Shan’s devotees pay respects to the NINE EMPEROR GODS 九皇大帝 under the directions of Mr. Siow, an elder from Hong San Keong 凤山宫.
Posing for a photo with old friends from Hong San Keong凤山宫.
Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong
Kim San Tze
Sending Off the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Niang Niang 恭送九皇大帝斗母娘娘回銮
After leaving the last temple, XWS heads to Changi Beach. The sedan chair is set up on a mat with offerings laid out in front of it.
Meanwhile, other helpers prep the dragon ship to be sent off. They place the folded paper, offerings and red lanterns into the ship. The five points on the beach are also prepared and secured.
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 経文 to send off the NINE EMPEROR GODS 九皇大帝. The divination blocks are used again to seek approval for the success of the ritual. During the sending off ritual, a gentleman standing nearby was taking photos with the flash on, which disturbed the ceremony. Despite using the divination blocks 3 or 4 times, the ritual did not work until the man was asked to leave.
The NINE EMPEROR GODS 九皇大帝 depart. After that, the dragon ship is pushed out to the sea and set alight.
At the same time, the incense, bamboos and the censers are also sent off into the sea.
The five points on the beach are once again struck with the whip.
After that, the contingent packs up and heads back to the festival venue.
The Festival has come to an end. The Nine Emperor Gods have been sent off, and over the next few days, the equipment will be packed up again and the deities moved back upstairs.
The day after sending back the NINE EMPEROR GODS 九皇大帝, Xuan Wu Shan hosts a dinner to reward everyone for their hard work. Since the NINE EMPEROR GODS 九皇大帝 have already been sent back, everyone no longer has to avoid meat, so the dinner serves both meat and vegetables.
The temple’s members are dressed in golden colours today.
In addition to the dinner, an auction is also held for the devotees attending the dinner to bid for various auspicious items to bring them good luck, blessings, and safety. . Aside from items such as blessed rice packs and lanterns, other people have donated items such as liquor, images or statues of auspicious animals. The auction adds some excitement to the dinner and also helps to raise money for the temple for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
That night, the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, also attended the dinner. Her presence added to the festive mood at the dinner.
With the end of the dinner, the deities will be invited back to the temple and the temple commitee and volunteers will pack the equipment into the containers to be stored until the festival next year.
Text and Photos by Team Xuan Wu Shan 2016-2017 (Belicia Teo, 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.