The Nine Emperor Bodhisattvas Festival is an extremely interesting festival loaded with cultural and religious significance. It is a strange, yet captivating, composite of culture with Chinese traditions, myths, and historical elements being incorporated. Elements of NEG festival are not only specific to Buddhism/Taoism, but are closely linked to Chinese culture as well. Such interconnections provide much complexity and diversity to the festival.
We felt lucky and honoured to be able to bear witness to the entire process of the festival. We had a glimpse into the “behind-the-scenes” preparation and received first-hand information from the temple committee members who have participated in the festival for many years. In Yu Huang Dian Yu Hai Tang Guan Yin Tang, we noticed that the temple is not at all economically motivated. It prides itself in committing to the traditional way of doing things and having the festival oriented towards the gods (instead of people’s desire).
There is a strong collective spirit in the temple, with everyone helping each other out. Most of the temple committee members have been with the temple since its time in Bukit Timah and brought their children to the temple since they were young. As such, the younger generation is also very active in the Nine Emperor Bodhisattvas festival and is extremely knowledgeable about the various practices involved. In light of an increasingly secular society, it was especially heartening to observe how there are still people/communities out there who fiercely preserve and defend their religious traditions.
It might sound cliché, but this project was indeed an eye-opening experience for us. It was through this project that we learnt that there is a whole web of meanings that goes behind such rituals. While each temple varies in its approach and interpretation of the Nine Emperor Gods festival, the camaraderie between the temples through Yew Keng (游行) and Can Bai (参拜) is indicative of the importance of the festival and affirms the shared religious faith and respect towards the Nine Emperor Gods.