Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong Feng Shan Si 汫水港 斗母宫 鳳山寺 2017 [English Version]

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Located along 561 Yishun Ring Road, Kew Ong Yah Hong San See temple harbours a rich history, which spans nearly a hundred years. The temple was originally located along Old Upper ​Thomson road, within ​Jia Zhui Gang 汫水港; a village named after a river situated within close proximity. Along with several other temples, the temple was later relocated to its present location, together forming the Chong Pang Combined Temple. Today, many deities such as the Jade Emperor, Nine Emperor Gods, Guangze Zun Wang, Goddess of Mercy, and Tua Pek Kong, are housed within the Kew Ong Yah Hong San See temple. In accordance with the Lunar Calendar, the temple celebrates the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival every September, over nine days. These nine days are packed with events and activities that involves both the religious organisation, and the community at large. Devotees from all over Singapore will join the temple during these nine days of celebration.

 

Preparations

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The preparation period usually begins weeks before the actual festival. Yet as the temple team consists primarily of the ageing generation, and faces shortage of youthful manpower, the temple has to begin preparations earlier every year. Most of the preparations take place in the afternoons and evenings; when the volunteers are done with

Volunteers arrive from as early as nine in the morning, and work late into the night. Many of the volunteers are housewives who are responsible for taking care of their families. Thus, during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, they would sometimes take turns going home to cook dinner for their families, before returning to the temple.

their day jobs.

 

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Volunteers and staff gather at the temple to work on tasks such as setting up the sedan chair, folding joss papers, packing goodie bags, as well as selecting and cutting the bamboo which will later exhibit the Nine Lanterns.

Every year, the temple orders a new Dragon Boat for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. The boat is made by hand by an Alvin Lim and his father. With the assistance of his children and colleagues, the Dragon Boat may be completed within a week. The Dragon Boat stands as an iconographic symbol of the festival, as well as a highlight for many devotees, who would donate money to have their names added to the side of the Dragon Boat.

image007.jpgArtisan constructing the Dragon Head

Receiving The Nine Emperor Gods

After weeks of preparation, the temple proceeded to receive the Nine Emperor Gods at Sembawang beach in the evening on the eve of the Ninth Lunar Month.

The day is packed with activities, such as the assembling and putting up of the Nine Lanterns, and the assembly of the Dragon Boat, which signifies the start of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

 

image011.jpgThe Completed Dragon Boat

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On the evening of 19th October 2017, the congregation sets off from Yishun towards Sembawang Beach, where they receive the Nine Emperor Gods. The congregation includes not only the temple staff, but also devotees from all over Singapore, as well as the performance troupes.

 

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image017.jpgThe ​Sedan Chair Arrives at Sembawang Beach

image019.jpgTaoist Priests Conducting Receiving​ ​Rituals at Sembawang Beach

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Member of Parliament Henry Kwek Hian Chuan joins the temple congregation at the beach where rituals were conducted by the taoist priests.

After the ritual, the Nine Emperor Gods’ urn is dipped into the sea to collect water, and then brought back to the temple.The urn is held by the Lu Zhu,​ followed by two other Assistant ​Lu Zhus ​who are responsible for covering the urn with two black flags.

 

image023.jpgFlag Bearers returning to the temple on the truck

Nine Emperor Gods Temple Paying Respects

 

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During the course of the nine-day festival, different Nine Emperor Gods temples take turns visiting one another. The visits are generally preceded by a bus of visiting devotees who would come forward to pay their respects in the temple.

 

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Sedan Chair Carrying an Incense Pot

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Prior to entering the temple, both the host as well as the guest temple would appoint a vanguard to carry a whip and the five flags; performing the role played by the Generals of Five Camps.

Upon greeting each other with a bow, each individual takes turns cracking the whips ​as a form of “clearing the way”. This would be done before the Nine Emperor Gods urn is brought in to the temple.

 

image031.jpgVisit from Xuan Wu Shan Temple, with the Lion Dance Troupe

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Some temples would bring their sedan chairs with them during such visitations. Each temple’s sedan chair has its own unique design, history, and background story.

 

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One would be able to observe many interesting ways which devotees have came up with to receive their blessings from the Nine Emperor Gods. This includes them putting their prayer beads, or even their wallets over the incense smoke which rises from the thurible.

 

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Each temple’s thurible would be carried by ​Lu Zhu​, who straps the thurible tray around his neck with yellow cloth. The ​Lu Zhu is an individual chosen annually by the Nine Emperor Gods, by means of divination blocks. The ​Lu Zhu is assigned different duties across different temples. In all temples however, he plays a crucial role during rituals – in particular, he is responsible for the carrying of incense urns and other important items used required for the rituals. Inside each the thurible contains burning sandalwood – an item which would be traded during visitations. Every temple has their own unique thurible designs; and these designs range from traditional to modern ones.

 

image039.jpgThurible Decked Out in Neon Lights

Gathering of the Community

 

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The Nine Emperor Gods festival is a rare opportunity for the community to gather. With ​Jing Shui Gang being nearly a century old, the temple has been a site of prayer for a few generations of devoted Taoist families. Many parents have brought their children to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods, just as their parents did.

Volunteers from all walks of life would also gather together during this period, to help out with the logistics of the festival.

 

image043.jpgVolunteers stationed at the Dragon Boat Booth

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The temple also organises various performances and activities to engage members of the community. Such activities include dance and musical performances, as well as free traditional Chinese medicine consultation sessions. These activities are commonly sponsored by other temples; for example, the Chinese medicine consultation sessions are sponsored by the Nam Hong Siang Thong,

 

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image049.jpgAdding sandalwood to the urn

image051.jpgSecuring the Middle General of the Five Camps to the sedan chair

Yew Keng to Nine Emperor Gods Temples


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On the Fourth day of the Lunar month, the temple begins their own ​Yew Keng ​to other Nine Emperor Gods temples in Singapore.

The temple sets off early in the morning, for the first of the 15 destinations. Buses were catered for devotees who wished to attend this occasion..

In the old days, during when the temple was still at the village in Thomson Road, the temple would conduct the entire ​Yew Keng on foot; walking up to over a hundred kilometres in total.

The congregation of devotees, have been recorded to a total of thousands of people. Today however, this is no longer possible due to logistical limitations.

 

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image056.jpgExchange of sandalwood

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The ​Yew Keng also serves as a great opportunity for the temple committee and staff to keep in contact with other Nine Emperor Gods temples. The rapport between the temples is extremely important, for it maintains the knittedness of the network and community.

 

image062.jpgimage064.jpgThurible and other ritual essentials

image066.jpg“HUAT AH!” at Long Shan Yan Doumu Gong

image068.jpgIncorporation of Buddhist Practices within a Nine Emperor Gods Temple

image070.jpgVegan food served as a form of hosting Yew Keng visitors from other temples

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Due to logistical complications, the temple had to return to Yishun for the receiving of Hougang Tou Mu Kung in the afternoon, before proceeding with ​Yew Keng​.

image074.jpgHougang Tou Mu Kung’s visiting Sedan Chair

image076.jpgLion Dance Troupe from Hougang Tou Mu Kung

image078.jpgOutside Long Shan Yan Dou Mu Gong; the Final Stop

Water Ritual & ​Yew Keng​ in Yishun Neighbourhood

 

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The temple is packed with activities on the sixth day; starting off with the Water Ritual, followed by paying Respects to the Jade Emperor, and finally, the Yew Keng around Yishun in the evening.

Every year, the temple conducts a ritual to bless the water collected from a well. The Water Ritual stand as one of the symbolic events of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

 

image082.jpgTaoist Priest in the Midst of the Water Ritual

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Upon returning to the temple, the Taoist Priest began leading a prayer and ritual dedicated to the Jade Emperor. Placed on the table are food offerings to the deities which await to be blessed by the priests. The food was later shared and distributed among the devotees.

 

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In the evening, the ​Ba Jiang Tuan,​ also known as Guards of the Gods, performed at the temple. They belong to the Zhong Lian Dian Folk Arts troupe, which is trained in Taiwan, and stands as the only recognised group in Singapore performing this special dance. The guards are generals in the underworld who serve deities of the netherworld. Even though the performing group is named ​Ba Jiang Tuan ​(Eight General Group), there is in fact, nine of them. The ninth leader in the center holds a gourd. Their performance on this night kick started the temple’s ​Yew Keng to the other temples within the Yishun

district. The Guards remained in the temple during the ​Yew Keng;​ as a symbolic act of guarding as well as protecting it.

 

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Similar to the previous ​Yew Keng where Jing Shui Gang visited other Nine Emperor Gods temple, on this day, the temple visits neighbouring places of worship, as a way of maintaining inter-temple relationships with other religious organisations within Yishun. The temple did not only visit Chinese temples, but were also welcomed in the Hindu temples in the neighbourhood.

 

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image096.jpgBlack Flags Protecting the Urn

image098.jpgPlacing the Tablet in the Sedan Chair

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As the temple returned from the ​Yew Keng in YishunNeighbourhood.the​BaJiangTuano​nce again performed their dance, drawing a huge crowd.

Each of the guards have a different origin stories attributed to them. According to these stories, some of them are prescribed with the ability to see good and evil in people, while others have the ability to shorten the lifespan of people. They each carry a different tool of torture which they use to punish evil-doers.

These performing dancers do not play the role of spirit mediums – they merely serve to channel the deities.

 

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image104.jpgCleaning of the Eyes Drawn; Signifying the Gods Leaving their Bodies

image106.jpgDecorated Trucks Employed for Yew Keng

image108.jpgStaff Committee, Volunteers, and Performers

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Gala Dinner for the Elderly

 

Nearing the end of the Nine Emperor Gods festival, the temple organised a vegan dinner for elderly folks residing in the Chong Pang district. Apart from the scrumptious feast prepared for the elderly, there were also performances put up by various groups of performers, such as a multi-ethnic band from the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC). This event is graced by Member of Parliament, Mr Henry Kwek.

 

image112.jpgDevotees Offering their Prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods before the Dinner

The dinner is sponsored by devotees of the temple. By approaching the temple staff, devotees may express their interest to sponsor any number of seats for the elderly attendees. Devotees do not know who they are specifically buying a meal for; their act of sponsorship is purely an act of kindness, dedicated to benefit the pioneers of Yishun Neighbourhood.

image114.jpgAn elderly lady enjoying the dinner and performances

image116.jpgMP Henry Kwek Hian Chuan

The dinner event witnessed elderly folks of different ethnic groups gathered together to enjoy a night of food and performances. This also event provided an opportunity for people of different cultures and religious backgrounds to come together, to either showcase their talents as performers or enjoying a night with each other’s company.

 

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The dinner event witnessed elderly folks of different ethnic groups gathered together to enjoy a night of food and performances. This also event provided an opportunity for people of different cultures and religious backgrounds to come together, to either showcase their talents as performers or enjoying a night with each other’s company.

 

Sending off the Nine Emperor Gods

 

The final day of the festival was one of the busiest, as several events took place concurrently. As with the receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods, the sending off ritual took place in the evening at Sembawang Beach. Prior to the sending off ritual, there were a series of other rituals (i.e.paying respect to the tian gong) which were carried out within the temple.

The day started off with a performance by the ​Zhong HuaLianYouHuia​tninein the morning. ​The main section of the performing troupe (dressed in white uniforms and fur hats) played the cymbals, while the ​Da Tou Wa Wa (Big Headed Dolls) performed to the rhythm of the music.

 

image120.jpgimage122.jpgGoddess of Mercy spirit medium went into trance, as part of sending off the Nine Emperor Gods.

image124.jpgPlacing the tablet in the sedan chair

image126.jpgPerformance at Sembawang Beach before the send off

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Minister of Home Affairs, Mr K. Shanmugam Gracing the Sending Off Event

 

image130.jpgMoving the Dragon Boat to the Beach

image132.jpgFinal Send off of the Nine Emperor Gods

At the end of the ritual, the Dragon Boat is pushed into the sea and set ablaze. At the same time, the Nine Emperor Gods urn is carried from the prayer altar towards the sea. The urn is then dipped into the sea, before the final prayer to the Nine Emperor Gods is offered. The ​Lu Zhu​ brings the urn back into the inner chamber of the temple; where it sits, until mobilised again for the next Nine Emperor Gods festival.

 

Post-festival & Appreciation Dinner

 

After the eventful night at Sembawang Beach, the volunteers return to the temple early the next day. Despite the end of the Nine Emperor Gods festival, there was still much work to be done.

The volunteers and staff spend the next day removing decorations, as well as packing up the logistics that had been set up for the Nine Emperor Gods festival, such as flags, banners, gates and tables. Rituals were also conducted through the day, as a way of wrapping up the entire festival.

image134.jpgimage136.jpgTaking down the donor slips

image138.jpgLowering the Nine Lanterns

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A series of rituals were conducted in succession. The​ Ko Kun r​itual was performed as an expression of gratitude for the hard work of the Generals of the Five Camps, who protected the temple during the festival. There was also a ritual to signify the end of the vegan fast. Food offerings placed in front of the altars consist of both meat and vegetable dishes.

 

image142.jpgFood Offerings at the Dou Mu Kong Altar

image144.jpg出席庆功宴的义工们

image146.jpgVolunteers at the Appreciation Dinner

image148.jpgVolunteers at the Appreciation Dinner

Afterthought

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Our team would like to extend our greatest thanks to ​Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong Feng San Si 汫水港 斗母宫 鳳山寺 for graciously allowing us to document the Nine Emperor Gods festival in their temples and their history.

We have benefited greatly from their generosity in sharing their materials, knowledge and experience, and from their hospitality. The temple has graciously opened their doors and provided our team access, treating us as one of their own people. Through the project, we have experienced and witnessed the strong bonds of friendship, spirit of community and sharing which continues to sustain and push forth the tradition and culture of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

With the long and complex histories of the Nine Emperor Gods, there is still much to be done and studied.We look forward to working with everybody in the future, and to be part of this effort to preserve and promote these traditions in Singapore!

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