Situated along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong (LSGDMG) is part of the Ang Mo Kio Joint Temple together with two other temples, Kong Lim Kong and Kim Eang Tong. Founded by the late Master Chuan Xi in the 1970s at Kim Tian Road, LSGDMG was formerly known as Bukit Batok Dou Mu Gong and worships the Jiu Huang Wu Di (九皇五帝, Fifth Emperor God) as its main deity. The temple shifted to Bukit Batok in the 1980s, where it was well known among nearby residents for its yearly celebrations of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival during the 9th lunar calendar month.
Since 2011, Bukit Batok Dou Mu Gong has merged with Leng San Giam, and is now situated at the second level of the temple at Ang Mo Kio. Besides worshipping the Nine Emperor Gods, the three-story temple also worships other deities, such as the three Fa Zhu Sheng Jun (张/肖/章公圣君), Da Sheng Gong (大圣公) and etc.
Preparation before the Nine Emperor Gods Festival
Even though the yearly Nine Emperor Gods Festival officially starts in the 9th lunar month, preparation work at LSGDMG started at least a month before the festival. This includes the setting up of altars within a makeshift tentage outside the temple, the cleaning of deities’ statues, and the assembling Nine Emperor Gods’ sedans.
Temple committee preparing flags and paper offerings to be used during the festival.
The fully decorated sedans would be transported to a makeshift tentage behind the temple, where the committee members would clean, mend and ensure that the sedans were in good condition before the festival.
Assembling and maintaining the sedans of the Nine Emperor Gods before the start of the festival.
Putting up the Nine Emperor Gods’ banners around the makeshift tentage.
Temple committee and helpers carrying the dragon boat to the temple.
Temple helpers could also be seen packing sets of attires, which consist of a white t-shirt, white pants, white towel, white cloth to tie around the head and a yellow cloth to tie around the waist. The attire represents the mourning for the Nine Emperor Gods, and all committee members were to don on this attire throughout the entire festival.
Committee members sorting out attires.
A day before the receiving ceremony, LSGDMG carried out a ritual at the Jiu Huang Deng (九皇灯, Nine Emperor Gods’ Lamps) altar outside the tentage for the raising of bamboo shoot, which according to the temple, would act as an ‘antenna’ for the festival to attract and guide deities to the temple. After the bamboo shoot was raised up, nine lamps (each for one of the Nine Emperor Gods) would be hung up on the bamboo shoot.
Ritual carried out at the NEG lamp altar outside the tentage before start of the festival.
Receiving the Nine Emperor Gods
Each year during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the temple committee and devotees would proceed to Punggol Marina Jetty for the Receiving Ceremony, to welcome the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods. The ceremony for the year was held on 18 October 2017, on the 29th day of the 8th lunar calendar month. Before the main party departed to Punggol Marina, temple committee could be seen doing final preparations in the temple, such as securing deities’ statues onto sedan chairs and doing mass prayers in front of the main altar.
Securing the statue of a deity onto the sedan chair.
Spirit medium in trance at the temple before the receiving ceremony.
Committee members and helpers doing a mass prayer before proceeding to Punggol Marina.
The first group of temple committee arrived at the jetty in the early evening to set up a makeshift altar for the ceremony. Statues of various deities worshipped by the temple were brought to the jetty and placed on the altar, together with other food and paper offerings. Ash urns for each Nine Emperor Gods were also placed neatly on the altar table.
Set-up of altar at Punggol Marina Jetty. Statues of deities include the Guan Di (关帝, Lord Guan), Mazu (妈祖), Fa Zhu (法主公) and Da Sheng (大圣公).
Upon setting up the altar, a Taoist priest could be seen leading the temple committee in paying respects to the deities. After which he would recite a Shu Wen (疏文, spiritual petition paper), an act to seek blessings from the deities for the temple committee and sponsors of the festival, followed by reciting the Bei Dou Jing (北斗经, Northern Dipper Scripture).
Taoist priest performing a ritual before the receiving ceremony.
While the ritual was going on, the main party and devotees from the temple began to arrive in lorries and buses. There were in total ten Nine Emperor Gods sedans (one for each deity and one for Dou Mu Niang Niang), carried by different groups of sedan carriers. Palanquins carrying the Fa Zhu and Shan Cai Tong Zi (善财童子, Sudhana) were also brought to the jetty for the receiving ceremony.
Temple helpers tasked as sedan carriers for the Nine Emperor Gods’ sedans during the receiving ceremony.
After all the Nine Emperor Gods’ sedans have arrived, temple committee members were seen walking into the waters, carrying a pail to “receive” the water. Upon the collection of waters, the spirit medium went in trance at the same moment, which was a sign that the temple had successfully “received” the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods.
Committee members receiving waters using a pail at Punggol Marina.
The pail of water was then poured into the ash urns belonging to each of the Nine Emperor Gods and Dou Mu Niang Niang. Every sedan would then send a representative to the main altar to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods, and to collect their respective urns. The representative would hold the urn on top of his head using both hands, and return to his sedan by moving on his knees. He would then place and secure the urn inside the sedan. At the same time, the spirit medium, Fa Zhu and Sudhana palanquins also came by each sedan, as a form of acknowledgement and greeting for the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods.
Sedan representatives carrying as urns of the Nine Emperor Gods from the altar.
After all the ash urns were secured in the sedans, sedan carriers took turns to lift their sedans up, and started to parade around the altar, signifying the divine presence of the Nine Emperor Gods. The different groups of sedan carriers would also sing and cheer while parading, to hype up the atmosphere of the celebrations before proceeding back to the temple.
Sedan representative placing an ash urn into Dou Mu Niang Niang’s sedan and parading around the altar.
As the main party and devotees return to the temple at nighttime, the Taoist priest was seen performing a ritual to announce the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods, and to welcome other deities in joining the celebrations. Sedan carriers would then carry the Nine Emperor Gods’ sedans to pay respects at the various altars within the temple. The ash urns of the Nine Emperor Gods were then removed from the sedans and brought into the inner chamber of the temple, which was located at the second floor of LSGDMG.
Sedan carriers parading outside Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong.
Sedan carriers paying respects at the temple.
Community of the Nine Emperor Gods Temples
During the 9-day festival, it is common for Nine Emperor Gods temples to conduct visitations to other NEG temples in Singapore. The visitations occurred between the temples became a medium through which the different groups from various temples could meet and interact with each other. Elaborate processions take place when other temples visited LSGDMG and vice versa– the cracking of the whip, the payment of respect towards different groups through the medium of ritual (the bowing towards the altars and the cheers at the end of the greeting ritual that occurs at every visitation). By observing the interactions between temples during the visitations, one could certainly get a glimpse of how the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is interpreted by different groups of people, which in turn brought about the different ways of celebrating the festival itself.
NEG Temples visiting LSGDMG
Various temples visited LSGDMG throughout the festivals, some came with sedan chairs and performance troupes during their Yew Keng sessions, while others came with a small group of committee temples and devotees to pay respects of behalf of their temples. Typically, temples visiting LSGDMG would pay their respects at the various altars in the tentage area around the temple, followed by the exchange of sandalwood ashes andthe presentation of gift hampers or baskets. Visiting temples would sometimes send representatives to make offerings and pay respect to the deities in the inner chamber on the second level of LSGDMG. Such visitations usually end off with cheers of ‘Heng, Ong, Huat ah’ from both temples, displaying the good relationship and bond between the various Nine Emperor Gods temples.
Shifu welcoming guests from Zhun Ti Tang (准提堂) during a visitation.
Members of Zhun Ti Tang conducting mass prayers at LSGDMG.
Left: Nan Shan Hai Miao (南山海庙) visiting LSGDMG. Right: Member of Nan Shan Hai Miao carrying an ash urn to represent the temple.
Left: Member of Yu Feng Jiu Huang Dian (玉封九皇殿 ) praying in front of an altar at LSGDMG. Right: Representatives from Yu Feng Jiu Huang Dian paying respects to the deities outside the inner chamber at LSGDMG.
Member of Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Temple (蔡厝港斗母宫) paying respects to the deities outside the inner chamber at LSGDMG.
Members of Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Temple with the committee members of LSGDMG.
LSGDMG committee exchanging greetings with Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Temple.
LSGDMG committee gears up and awaits the arrival of a visiting temple at the entrance of the tentage.
Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong(汫水港斗母宫) arrives at LSGDMG during its Yew Keng session.
Flag bearers and sedan chair carriers from Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong. Unlike usual visitations by temple committee and devotees, visiting temples on a Yew Keng session would be seen with a larger congregation, bringing along the deities’ sedan chairs and/or flags to pay respects at the host temple.
LSGDMG committee member exchanging greetings with Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong (南北斗母宫) with a Nine Emperor God’s flag.
Members of Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong conducting a mass prayer in front of the main altar at LSGDMG.
Members of Shen Xian Gong (神仙宫) visiting LSGDMG. For some visiting temples, a representative would be sent to ‘cleanse’ the area at the entrance of the host temple with a whip or flag before the congregation moves into the host temple.
Shen Xian Gong members conducting mass prayers at LSGDMG.
Temple visitation by Long Nan Dian (龙南殿). Members of the visiting temples could usually be seen conducting mass prayers on their knees at the various altars in the host temple as a form of showing respect to the deities.
Exchange of greetings between members of Long Nan Dian and LSGDMG.
Visitation to other NEG Temples
For the festival this year, LSGDMG visited 12 Nine Emperor Gods temples across Singapore over the span of two nights. The visiting congregation consisted of about 30 temple committee members and helpers travelling together in a chartered bus for both nights. During the visitations, LSGDMG would bring along the urn carrying the temple’s ashes, carried by the Lu Zhu (炉主) of this year’s festival, as well as offerings such as joss sticks and candles. Flags of the Nine Emperor Gods were also brought to represent the divine powers of the deities, as well as gift hampers to be presented to host temples during the visitations. Similar to visitations by other temples, representatives from LSGDMG would mostly be invited to the inner chambers of the host temples to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods. Host temples would also typically invite members of the visiting temples for a vegetarian meal offered by the temple.
LSGDMG paying respects to the deities at Zhun Ti Tang.
Exchanging sandalwood ashes with Zhun Ti Tang.
Zhun Ti Tang members sending LSGDMG members off after the end of a visitation.
Shifu refilling the sandalwood ashes in the temple’s urn carried by the Lu Zhu outside Hong San Temple (凤山宫).
Committee members of Hong San Temple welcoming LSGDMG during a visitation.
LSGDMG members paying respects at Hong San Temple.
Members of Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong awaiting the arrival of LSGDMG at the entrance of the temple.
Member of LSGDMG presenting a gift hamper to Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong.
LSGDMG preparing for mass prayers at Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong.
Conducting mass prayers at Nan Bei Dou Mu Gong.
Exchanging of greeting between LSGDMG and Hougang Dou Mu Gong Temple.
Conducting mass prayers at Hougang Dou Mu Gong Temple.
LSGDMG’s committee member holding the gift from Hougang Dou Mu Gong Temple.
Left: Arrival at Nan Shan Hai Miao; Right: Preparing for mass prayers at Nan Shan Hai Miao.
Receiving of gift from Nan Shan Hai Miao.
Arrival at Jee Hai Tung Kwan Im Welfare Society(玉海棠观音堂).
LSGDMG member leading a prayer at Jiu Huang Dian.
LSGDMG member holding the gift from Jiu Huang Dian.
Arriving at Kim San Tze Temple (金山寺斗母宫) on a late night for visitation.
Committee members exchanging greetings with host temple.
LSGDMG members conducting mass prayers at Long Nan Dian.
Female helpers from LSGDMG joining the temple visitations.
Shifu seen leading LSGDMG members for mass prayers at Jiu Huang Dian.
Exchange of greetings and gifts with Jiu Huang Dian.
Member of Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong ‘cleansing’ the area with a whip.
Exchange of greetings with Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong.
Arrival at Shen Xian Gong.
Conducting mass Prayers at Shen Xian Gong.
Members of LSGDMG travelling to different Nine Emperor Gods temples for visitations in a chartered bus.
Conducting prayers at Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Temple.
Exchange of gifts and greetings with Choa Chu Kang Tao Bu Keng Temple.
Rituals and the Nine Emperor Gods
It is believed that during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, bridge-crossing ceremonies are performed as rituals of purification. In Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong, the bridge-crossing ceremony (过平安桥) is held every year during the festival. For this year, the procession was held on the 6th day of the festival (25 October 2017).
Temple committee setting up the Ping An Bridge (平安桥) before the ceremony starts.
After setting up of the Ping An Bridge, a Taoist priest could be seen performing a cleansing ritual at the main altar and the surrounding area of the bridge before the procession starts.
Taoist priest cleansing the surrounding area before the procession begins.
Altar set-up during bridge-crossing ceremony.
Devotees would purchase a set of incense paper to join the procession, before queuing up according to their zodiac signs to cross the bridge. Led by the Taoist priest, devotees would place monies in any denominations in the pail by the side of the bridge before crossing the bridge. Committee members would brush the Nine Emperor Gods flags and staffs over the devotees and stamp a red seal on the devotees’ backs, as acts of good blessings.
Bridge-Crossing processions at LSGDMG.
Sets of incense papers to be burnt after the bridge-crossing ceremony ends.
Rituals held by external religious groups
For this year’s Nine Emperor Gods Festival, LSGDMG invited two external religious groups, Yun Nan Shan Tang (云南善堂) and He Miao Dao Yun (合妙道运) to conduct rituals at the temple during the festival.
Members of Yun Nan Shan Tang members carving out an image of a Buddha (清地藏王菩萨) using rice grains.
The altar set-up for a Buddhist Chao Du (超度) ritual conducted by Yun Nan Shan Tang.
Members of Yun Nan Shan Tang performing a Buddhist Chao Du (超度) ritual, assisted by LSGDMG committee members.
Preparing the offerings used for a Chao Du ritual to release souls of the dead from sufferings.
On the 6th day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, various sets of ongoing rituals could be seen held from the morning till late afternoon at the temple. The temple invited Taoist group He Miao Dao Hui (合妙道运) to conduct the rituals, such as the invitation of the Heavenly God (天公), and inviting deities to a feast prepared by the temple.
Tables of vegetarian dishes were served as feasts offered to the deities. Each chair was covered with a decorated cloth, and a stack of incense paper and a lit joss stick is placed on top of the chair. The committee members would serve drinks during the feast. The celebration would end with a ritual to send off the Heavenly God.
A group of Taoist priests leading the temple committee and devotees for a prayer to the deities.
Offerings made to the Nine Emperor Gods at the main altar.
Spirit mediumship and the Nine Emperor Gods
The shifu and spirit medium of LSGDMG, Mr Chew, could be seen trancing into the different Nine Emperor Gods throughout the festival. Other than trancing into Nine Emperor Gods, the spirit medium would sometimes also trances into Fa Zhu, Da Sheng Gong and also the late master of the temple, Master Chuan Xi.
Spirit medium trancing into one of the Nine Emperor Gods during the receiving and sending off ceremonies at Punggol Marina.
Mr Chew trancing into the late Master Chuan Xi, founder of LSGDMG, during a Buddhist reincarnation ritual held at the temple.
On several occasions during the festival, the spirit medium tranced into the different Nine Emperor Gods to give the temple committee instructions regarding the festival, and also to provide consultations for the temple devotees.
Spirit medium trances into the Second Emperor God, with his sword, flag and seal as a form of identification.
Spirit medium trances into the Fifth Emperor God, also the main deity worshipped by the temple, giving instructions to the temple committee members.
When the deity is available for consultations, temple devotees would usually form a queuing in front of the main altar to seek answers from the deity. According to the temple, it is believed that each of the Nine Emperor Gods ‘specializes’ on a specific area of expertise, ie. Health, Fortune and Work etc.
Temples devotees consulting the Ninth Emperor God after the bridge-crossing ceremony.
It should be noted that there are two other spirit mediums in Leng San Giam, in-charge of trancing the other two Fa Zhu Gong. The two spirit mediums would go into trance during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival too, and when they do, they would exchange greetings with the Nine Emperor Gods and offer tea to them at the altar, showing the relations between different temples within the LSGDMG compound.
Two spirit mediums trance into Fa Zhu Gong, awaiting at the temple to greet the Nine Emperor Gods.
Sending off the Nine Emperor Gods
The sending off ceremony was held on the final (ninth) day of the festival, signifying the end of this year’s celebrations. On the night before the final day, temple committee and helpers could be see preparing various paper offerings (paper boats, gold nuggets, deities’ robes etc), placing them into an incense burner to be burned as the ceremony ends the next day. More items were placed into the dragon boat as the sending off ceremony at Punggol Marina Jetty approaches. Some items include paper boats, lotus flowers, and red packets containing amulets.
Offerings such as deities’ robes and incense paper were placed in the incense burner before the start of the sending off ceremony.
Committee member placing paper offerings into the dragon boat.
Bao Shen Fu (Protection amulets), incense papers shaped as gold nuggets and lotus flowers were placed inside the dragon boat.
On the final day of the festival, rituals were held during the daytime in the temple before the main party sets off to Punggol Marina for the sending off ceremony. One of the rituals held was the lowering of the Nine Emperor Gods’ lamps, which were hung on the bamboo placed at the Jiu Huang Deng (Nine Emperor Gods’ Lamps) altar during the festival. The bamboo was then also brought down and sawed into pieces, before being placed in the incense burner along with other offerings.
As dusk sets in, lion and dragon dance troupes arrived at the temple, signifying the start of the celebrations for the night. Spirit mediums of the temple were seen trancing into the two Fa Zhu deities, greeting and paying respects to the Nine Emperor Gods. Temple committee and helpers then gathered around the main altar, performing a kowtow ceremony before assisting the transportation of sedans to Punggol Marina.
Something interesting to note of, is that while there were ten sedan chairs being transported to the jetty during the receiving ceremony, only nine sedans were present at the jetty for the sending off ceremony. The tenth sedan, Dou Mu Niang Niang’s, stayed in the temple as the congregation proceeded to send off the Nine Emperor Gods.
Temple committee and helpers doing a mass prayer in front of main altar.
Group photo before departing to Punggol Marina.
Temple committee on their way to Punggol Marina.
Meanwhile, a small group of temple committee had already arrived at Punggol Marina earlier to set up an altar and to move the dragon boat into the waters.
Setting up of the altar at Punggol Marina.
Transporting the dragon boat into the waters.
After the set-up was completed, the Taoist priests performed rituals and chanted scriptures, when more devotees started to arrive at Punggol Marina, filling up the area around the altar.
Temple committee and devotees participating in the pre-ceremony rituals.
The congregation arrived at around 9pm with the performing troupes and Nine Emperor Gods’ sedans. Accompanied by the lion and dragon dance troupes, the nine sedans rocked and swayed their ways through the jetty, soon surrounding the area around the altar.
An Nine Emperor God’s sedan arrives at Punggol Marina.
During the sending off ceremony, sedan carriers would remove the urns from each Nine Emperor God’s sedan, holding each urn above their heads with both hands before kneeling their way to the altar. Sedan carriers would pass the urns to a committee member, who then placed them on the altar table. A ritual was performed by the Taoist priests, followed by temple committee paying their respects using joss sticks. After the ritual was completed, the nine urns were then transported to the dragon boat docked at the jetty by the temple committee.
Sedan carriers removing the urns from the First and Third Emperor Gods’ sedans.
Sedan carriers removing an urn from the Fifth Emperor God’s sedans.
Sedan carrier passing the ash urn to a committee member to be placed on the altar.
Temple committee carrying the urns towards the dragon boat and placing them inside.
The dragon boat would then be transported to the open waters by speed boats, where temple committee would proceed with the burning of the dragon boat.
Temple committee on speedboats placing incense paper into the dragon boat which was later lit up by a fire torch.
While the burning of dragon boat was ongoing at Punggol Marina, the rest of the party proceeded back to the temple for a ritual to end off the festival. This ritual is known as Song Zhong Shen (Sending off the deities), which meant to send the deities who came to join the celebrations back as the festival ends. Performed by a Taoist priest, this ritual officially marks the end of the festival as paper offerings were burned in the incense burner.
Burning of offerings to the deities after the end of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
Statues of all deities would then be removed from the altars and returned to the temple, the altars were then taken down and sedans kept by the temple committee.
Temple committee moving statues of deities back into the temple.
Helpers clearing up the altars after the end of the festival.
With utmost gratitude, we thank Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong for providing us the opportunity to document the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at the temple. It was an honor to witness the dedication and hard work of all the temple committee members and helpers during the two years of our research. They were the unspoken heroes who are keeping this unique culture and tradition alive till today. Religions and religious activities are part of our history, playing an important role by providing an outlet of emotional and spiritual support for various groups of people within our society. Devotees of different backgrounds gathered and formed a community through a common belief, and by continuing this tradition, the unsung heroes placed it upon themselves to pass down a faith, that has been kept close to the hearts of the different generations within the community, to the future generations.