Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2017 [English Version]

 

Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2017

A brief history of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng and the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

Founded during the post-war era, Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng (葱茅园九皇宫) was originally located in a kampong known as Lemongrass Garden, or Charn Mao Hern (葱茅园) near Jalan Alsagoff.  The kampong was located around present-day Paya Ubi Indutrial Park in the eastern region of Singapore. Two major linguistic groups make up the majority of the Chinese ethnic residents of Charn Mao Hern, with Hokkien speaking community residing in the northern area of the kampong colloquially called Shang  Ba (上芭), or the upper region, and the Teochew speaking community residing in the lower  Xiaba(下芭) colloquially known as Xin Ba She (新芭社). Airport Road served as a boundary between them.

Prior to the establishment of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, Nine Emperor Gods devotees from Charn Mao Hern would visit Hong San Temple (⼤成巷葱茅园凤山宫), the sole Nine Emperor Gods temple then which was located in the Hokkien area of Lemongrass Garden since its inception in 1905/1906. During the 1940s, the devotees from the southern part of Lemongrass Garden hoped to establish a temple of their own in the southern region of the kampong so as to make it convenient for devotees to pay respects to the Nine Emperor Gods without having to travel to the northern part of the kampong. Thus, the pioneers of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng invited Hong San Temple’s ‘joss ashes’ (⾹⽕),which represents  the Nine Emperor Gods, to a new compound in Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, marking its official establishment. Hence, many of the devotees in Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng today are predominately Teochew speaking. The welcoming and sending-off processions were held in the afternoon as there was only one Taoist priest in the village.


The Nine Emperor Gods Festival of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng from post-war to 1970s

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Prior to its relocation to its present location along Arumugam Road, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival was a communal event which involved the participation and mobilization of the entire kampong. Devotees recount how the entire community would come together and partake in the preparation and celebration of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Devotees from Charn Mao Hern would start their vegetarian diet together and residents would take turns to cook the meals for each other.

During the festival, men would often partake in more laborious activities such as the carrying the palanquins whereas women and children would take on less labour-intensive roles such as being flower-bearer or flag-bearers during the procession. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is often celebrated on the same scale as major events such as Chinese New Year, where the local school Hua Nong School (公立华农学校) would suspend classes in order to accommodate the festive celebrations as a majority of the students were involved in this festival.

Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng was eventually forced to relocate as a result of Singapore’s urban redevelopment plans in the late 1970s and many of the residents of Charn Mao Hern were subsequently relocated to various Housing Development Board (HDB) estate clusters(Eunos Crescent, Haig Road, Sims Drive, Bedok North). In 1986, the temple shifted to a temporary holding site off Arumugam Road. During this period, Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng was approached by the Teochew temple Cheng Hong Siang Tang (众弘善堂) to establish a combined temple together. Thus on 27 October 1990, the combined temple named Cheng Hong Siang Tng Kew Huang Keng (众弘善堂九皇宫) was officially completed and inaugurated at its present location along Arumugam Road


Organizational Structure of Kew Huang Keng

The temple is organized into seven committees; one main committee and six sub-committees, each holding specific roles and performing significant functions in the festival.

Overseeing all the other sub-committees is the Li Shi Hui (理事会 [Main Council]). This council consists of the most senior members of the temple and makes the final decisions on matters related to the temple or the organization and running of the festival.

The other six sub-committees are:

  1. Xiang You Hui (⾹友会 [Devotee Group]) – the members of this group are responsible for the extensive preparation related to the rituals and who are participating directly in the rituals and carrying of the palanquins;
  2. Cheng Jing Hui (诚敬会[Respect Group]) – the lion dance troupe dedicated to the temple;
  3. Cheng Xin Hui (诚⼼会 [Sincerity Group]) – the group responsible for liaising with the other patrons of the temple or participants to the festival, and used to co-ordinate with the dancers and actors hired to entertain the crowd in the
  4. Yin Yue Hui (音乐会 [Music Group]) – the music ensemble which performs during the festival in a uniquely identifiable Teochew style;
  5. Ge Pao Hui (歌炮会 [Song and Firecracker Group]) – derived from the idiom ⼀炮⽽红, the group is responsible for co-ordinating with the Teochew opera troupe to perform during the festival and used to be in-charge of setting off the firecrackers; and
  6. Fu Nu Zu (⼥组 [Women’s Group]): the female members of the temple who perform duties such as the manning of the stalls selling offerings during the festival as well as food preparation for festival participants and devotees.

Preparations for The Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Making of Decorative Yellow Flower Balls

For Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, preparations for the festival begins approximately a month before the festival. One of the main preparation before the festival is the weaving of the decorative yellow flower balls (花球). These flower balls which are to be adorned on to the palanquins and statue of the temple’s deity during the festival are painstakingly handwoven using multiple strips of yellow cloth. These flower balls are representative of the deity’s essence and they are a unique feature of temples celebrating the Nine Emperor Gods in the east as most temples in the west do not prepare flower balls for the celebration of the festival.

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The making of a flower ball is a complicated, time consuming and laborious process which takes around an hour and a half for a seasoned craftsman to create and twice as long for an inexperienced craftsman to complete one. The technique for making the decorative flower ball has been passed down from generation to generation and it has become a source of pride for the craftsmen who feels honoured being able to preserve this form of tradition. Similarly, many of the other devotees of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng also take pride in the preparation for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival as it provides them with a sense of spiritual fulfilment performing the various activities which they feel helps them connect with the deities.

However, there are certain restrictions and strict requirements which need to be adhered when making the yellow balls. The craftsmen must go on a vegetarian diet before they are allowed to make the flower ball and female volunteers who are on their menstrual period are forbidden from making or touching the decorative flower balls as they are considered unclean during this period. The completion of these decorative pieces spans over several days as many of the craftsmen are mainly members of Xiang You Hui who volunteers their personal time after work to help complete the weaving of the flower balls.


Construction of the Bridge

Another key preparation for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival that is unique to Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng is the construction of the wooden ramp also known as the bridge. Constructed three weeks prior to the festival, this bridge serves both a functional and symbolic purpose. Functionally, the bridge extends the entrance of the temple so that the palanquins, participants and devotees can make easy ingress and egress during the festival. Symbolically, the bridge represents the connection of the celestial and the natural world.

The construction of the bridge is tiresome work as members of the temple have to first drag the bulky wooden planks from the temple backyard to the front of the temple. The red safety barriers at the front of temple are then removed to lay the wooden beams which would form the skeletal body of the bridge. Next, members erect metal supports below the wooden beams which hold in place the bridge and reinforces it and the wooden planks then placed horizontally accordingly.

Once done, thinner wooden planks are subsequently placed upon the base and hammered in individually which act as additional footing for people to walk up the bridge. Once complete, the yellow metal railings are then welded into the structure. The entire process took over four hours to complete, however, while the task is backbreaking and laborious especially under the sweltering heat, the temple insist on constructing the entire bridge by hand rather than hiring external contractors as this activity allows them to retain the kampong spirit where everyone come together to help each other just as they did in the past.

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Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2016 [中文版]

 

Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2016

历史:葱茅园九皇宫的成立

在1940年代成立的葱茅园九皇宫,原本坐落于名为“葱茅园”的甘榜里。葱茅园位于新加坡东部,靠近芽笼士乃(Geylang Serai)地区。这个区域广阔,可细分为北部与南部。北部称为“上芭”区,聚集了大多数诏安人。南部则称为“下芭”区(也称为“新芭”区)、多数住着潮州人和马来人。芽笼士乃区域也可细分为住有多数潮州人的“前芭”区,在北部的“后芭”区以及在两区之间的“中芭”区。葱茅园九皇宫成立前,在南部的九皇爷信徒前往⼤成巷葱茅凤山宫庆祝九皇爷诞。后来,信徒从凤山宫“请香”,然后自己庆祝九皇爷诞。

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Figure 1

葱茅园九皇宫从战后到七十年代的九皇爷诞

从战后到七十年代,在村里举行的九皇爷诞是全村的大日子。社区里的每家每户都会动员参与节日。前村民——林女士——回忆过往时说道,“全村都吃斋,居民们也轮流下厨,和邻居们分享[斋菜]”,而且“我的兄弟负责抬神轿,而我也参加抬标游境”。

她也提到:“我的爸爸、叔叔、舅舅和兄弟都在游行队伍里。他们很强壮,可以帮忙抬神轿。”另一方面,林女士字里行间暗示着,女性与孩童们负责较轻松的工作。她解释:“村里多数女性负责持花,跟随在队伍后”。她也指出,持花的女士们“是村民的女儿”。据她说,她们负责拿着横幅和福物,而这些福物将在节日期间供信徒喊标。此外,她也提到,年纪太小、无法参与游行队伍的孩童们会跟随在队伍两旁行走。

确实,图2到图4的旧照片显示,林女士对葱茅园九皇爷诞的描述是与事实吻合的。大家斗参加庆祝。

除了上述特色,葱茅园九皇爷诞的规模也能媲美农历新年。在村里,大多数华农学校的学生都会参与这个盛会,导致学校不得不休课。因此,将九皇爷诞与农历新年相提并论,是一点也不夸张的。如图5,学生们都穿着量身定制的服饰。

前村民李先生也认同九皇爷诞如同新年。他说:“恭送圣驾就像假日,不用上学,可以出去玩耍,锣声响亮,就像是过年。”

葱茅园九皇宫从1970年代到1986年的发展

在这段时期,新加坡大步迈向工业化。为了成为现代化国家,新加坡推出土地重建计划,开发工业住宅区。虽然庙宇依然矗立在村里,但多数葱茅园村民纷纷移居到各个建屋发展局所建造的住宅区。此时,葱茅园九皇宫的香客数量已经略有缩减。1986年,庙宇搬迁到阿鲁慕甘路(Arumugam Road)的临时地点。

过后,众弘善堂和葱茅园九皇宫合作,在阿鲁慕甘路的临时地点建设一间联合庙。1990年,联合庙完工,地点就在庙宇现今地点,并在同年的10月27日正式开幕。

虽然庙宇已经搬迁,葱茅园九皇宫仍然通过游甘榜,在形式和象征上保留葱茅园的甘榜精神。现如今,庙宇会在游甘榜时拜访葱茅园前村民移居的各个组屋区,代替庙宇在村子里游行的传统。

作为游甘榜的一部分,前村民在各自的组屋区搭建九皇爷迎神站(如图8和9)。尽管甘榜的居民已经移居到各个地点,甘榜在地理上也有所扩张,但可贵的社群关系依然得到保留。

九皇宫的组织结构

宫务分为理事会及属下六个委员会。每个委员会肩负指定的职责,并在节日期间扮演重要的角色。庙宇的主委会也是理事会,负责管理所有小组委员会。理事会由庙宇最资深的成员们组成,对于有关庙宇或节日的安排持有最终决定权。

其他六个小组委员会包括:

(1)香友会:负责如图10的广泛仪式准备工作,也直接参与仪式与抬轿的工作(见图11)

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Figure 12

(2)诚敬会:管理专门为庙宇表演的舞狮队(见图12)

(3)诚心会:负责联系庙宇的香客和节日参与者,也曾负责联系舞者与演员,安排他们娱乐甘榜居民

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Figure 13

(4)音乐会:负责在节日期间进行独特的潮州演奏(见图13)(5)歌炮会:以成语“一炮而红”命名,负责安排潮州戏团在节日期间表演,也曾负责放鞭炮

(5)歌炮会:以成语“一炮而红”命名,负责安排潮州戏团在节日期间表演,也曾负责放鞭炮

(6)妇⼥组:负责管理售卖供品的临时摊位(见图14),也负责给节日参与者和信徒准备美食(见图15)。

九皇爷诞准备工作之一 —— 编花球

葱茅园九皇宫大约从农历八月开始准备节日事宜。准备工作的首要环节是用一条条黄布,手工编制出一粒粒花球。在节日期间,这些装饰品会摆放在庙宇的神轿和神像上。

制作花球的过程如下。首先,工匠(陈先生)会剪出十条90公分长的黄布,相互捆绑起来,如图16。接下来,他把黄布的尾端往中央折(见图17),然后不断地重复折叠,直到所有的尾端折好,花球就算完成(见图18)。

制作花球的过程繁琐,须要高度的专注力,在折叠尾端时也必须非常精准。制作花球也很费时。陈先生说:“技术经验与我相当的人需要大约一个半小时制作一粒花球,新手则需要三小时。”虽然制作花球是件苦差事,陈先生认为从中获得的满足感和自豪感超越了制作花球的疲惫。由于花球是代代相传的手艺,因此编制花球的技巧是由一名长者传授给他的。陈先生指出,他为可以保留这个传统而感到骄傲。

此外,通过编制花球,陈先生得到精神上的满足感。这项活动赋予他机会去表达对九皇爷的忠诚,也让他更亲近九皇爷。

虽然如此,义工们制作花球时需要遵循严格的要求,须洁净和持素。

制作花球的工匠们多数来自香友会,在下班后义务帮忙编制花球。工匠们往往需要耗费几天的时间,才可以完成这些花球。

九皇爷诞准备工作之二 —— 搭桥

九皇爷诞准备工作的独特环节之一是搭建称为“桥”的木制斜坡。桥梁在节日三个星期前搭建好,并具有功能性和象征性。功能方面,桥梁延长了庙宇的入口处,让神轿、参与者和信徒在进行仪式时容易进出庙宇。象征方面,桥梁象征两个世界(天界和凡界)的连接,让神明可以进入凡界。

搭建桥梁是间非常辛苦的工作。在烈日当空下,(负责最多准备事项的)众善信必须将一条条厚重的木板从庙宇后院拖到庙宇的入口处(见图19)。接下来,他们安装铁架(见图20),摆放木板,以形成基部。过程中,大家经常长时间屈背,导致背部拉伤。有位李先生说:“今天回到家,背肯定会痛”。接下来,他们会把较薄的木板放在基部上,然后一条条钉入基部以形成
桥梁。

木板钉完后,会把黄色铁制栏杆焊接在桥梁里(见图22)。焊接完毕后,桥梁便大功告成。众善信花费了大约四个小时才将整个桥梁搭建好。

虽然搭建桥费时又费力,大家坚持亲力亲为,自行搭建整座木桥,不肯请承包商搭建。这是因为搭桥让他们保留甘榜精神。李先生也同意这个看法,并说道:“这就像以前的美好时光,我们几个兄弟一起搭桥”。此外,众善信认为搭桥不累且有趣,因为他们在搭桥时都有说有笑的,心情十分愉悦。

九皇爷诞准备工作之三 —— 大扫除

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Figure 23

搭桥一个星期后,庙宇成员再为九皇爷诞做准备。大家给庙宇进行“大扫除”,确保庙宇能以彻底洁净的状态迎接节日的到来。这是因为纯净和斋戒是节日的核心概念。庙宇成员会给庙宇的每个角落,包括内殿,都进行打扫、修补和洗刷。比较难打扫的角落则由较年轻、敏捷的庙宇成员负责打扫,如图23。

大扫除完毕后,庙宇成员用黄色的横幅、旗子和其他物品装饰庙宇。黄色象征九皇爷即将到来。一些成员负责挂起各种装饰品,其他成员则负责在庙宇前方竖立起一个大铁杆。铁杆上方贴上一小株竹叶,而铁杆支撑着九面旗子和九张黄灯,以象征九皇爷。
虽然大扫除耗费一整天的时间,大家都不显得疲惫,反而还满脸笑容,期待节日的到来,还有人说:“节日终于要到了,发啊”。

九皇爷诞准备工作之四 —— 砍竹仪式

节日筹备工作的另一个重要环节就是取竹仪式。在华族民间信仰仪式当中,竹子角色重要,其不仅是神圣,也象征纯净和灵性。此外,九皇爷诞里的长竹就像一面旗子,告知九皇爷降临的地点。附在铁杆和九皇爷神灯的竹是所有九皇爷诞的主要特色。

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Figure 24

取好长竹后,庙宇成员把长竹运回九皇宫,然后快速地将长竹依倚靠在铁杆(见图24)。经验丰富的成员轻松登上高梯,把长竹上部固定好(见图25)。和铁杆捆绑在一起的长竹挺直地竖立着(见图26)。同时,另一名成员利落地把长竹和九灯(九皇爷神灯)衔接在一起,如图27。

固定好长竹后,道师从庙宇走出来,进行一个简短的仪式,给贴有符纸的长竹“赐福”。 安装长竹的仪式完成后,九皇宫九皇爷诞的准备工作也完成了。

Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2016 [English Version]

 

Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng 葱茅园九皇宫 2016

History – The founding of Charn Mao Yuen Kew Huang Keng

Founded during the 1940s, Charn Mao Herng Kew Huang Keng (葱茅园九皇宫) was originally located in a kampong known as Lemongrass Garden Kampong (also known as Charn Mao Hern or 葱茅园) that was situated in the eastern part of Singapore, near the Geylang Serai area. Spanning a large area, this region was divided into the northern area (Shangba (上芭)), where the inhabitants were predominantly Jiaowan (诏安), and the southern area (Xiaba (下芭), also called Xinba (新芭)) where the residents were predominantly Teochew and Malay. Another set of names divides the area in to three regions, with the Teochew region as the Qianba (前芭), the northern region as the Houba (后芭), with a Zhongba (中芭) in between.

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Figure 1

Prior to the establishment of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, devotees of the Nine Emperor Gods in the southern region went to Hong San Temple (⼤成巷葱茅凤山宫) for the festival. The devotees later started their own Nine Emperor Gods festival by inviting the incense from Hong San temple.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival of Charn Mao Heng Kew Huang Keng from post-war to 1970s

Held within the village, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival from the duration of the post-war to 1970s can be considered a village affair as the festival often sighted the participation and mobilisation of an entire family as well as the community. Ms Lin, an ex-resident of Charn Mao Hern, reminisced that the “entire village was on a vegetarian diet, the residents took turns to cook the meals and shared with the neighbours” and “personally my brother was the sedan-chair barrier and I was the flower-girl”.

Moreover, she commented that “my father, uncles and brothers were involved in the procession, they were strong, they could carry the sedan chairs”. On the other hand, Ms Lin suggested that women and children partook in less labour-intensive roles. She explained, “most of the women in the village were flower-girls that follow behind the processions”. The flower-girls were “just daughters of the residents”. According to her, they (the flower-girls) carry the banners or items that were auctioned during the festival. Furthermore, she added that children who were too young to be in the operations of the procession, join the festival by walking or marching alongside the parade.

Indeed, the old photographs (Figures 2, 3 and 4) tells a tale that supports Ms Lin’s description of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival of Charn Mao Hern. This festival was one that transcended both age and gender.

Apart from the above-mentioned qualities, the scale of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Charn Mao Hern parallels that of the Chinese New Year. This comparison is not an exaggeration because Hua Nong School (华农学校, the village school) had to suspend lessons to accommodate the nine days of festive celebrations since a majority of the students were involved in this festival. As seen in Figure 5, school children were donned in tailored outfits.

Mr Lee, an ex-resident of Charn Mao Hern, concurred that the Nine Emperor Gods Festival experience was like Chinese New Year. “[Festival] is like a holiday, there is no school, we get to go out to play, the drums were so loud and it is just like Chinese New Year “, he said.

The development of Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng from the 1970s to 1986

This period was marked by industrialisation. As part of Singapore’s initiative to modernise and develop, a land redevelopment programme was introduced to transform the land into industrial estates. Although the temple still stood on the village site, most of the residents of Charn Mao Hern were gradually relocated to various Housing Development Board (HDB) estates, and the patronage of Charn Mao Heng Kew Huang Keng saw a slight dip. In 1986, the temple was shifted to a temporary holding site off Arumugam Road.

Subsequently, a Teochew Shan Tang (众弘善堂) came together with Kew Huang Keng to establish a combined temple on its temporary site off Arumugam Road. In 1990, the combined temple, which is where the temple currently stands, was completed and was officially launched on 27 October that year.

In spite of the relocation of the temple, the kampong spirit of Charn Mao Hern has been symbolically and physically preserved through the Kampong Yew Keng. Replacing the traditional procession of parading through the village was the visitation of the ex-residents of Charn Mao Hern at the HDB estates, where most  of them have relocated to. As part of the kampong visitations, Nine Emperor Gods altar stations akin to those featured in Figures 8 and 9 were being erected by ex-residents of Charn Mao Hern in their respective HDB estates. While the temple’s kampong have been dramatically extended in geographical terms to a multiplicity of locations, community ties continued to be retained through the adaptation of the village Yew Keng.

Organizational Structure of Kew Huang Keng

The temple is divided into six committees; one main committee and six sub-committees, each holding specific roles and performing significant functions

in the festival. Overseeing all the other sub-committees is the Main Council (Li Shi Hui, 理事会). This council consists of the most senior members of the temple and makes the final decisions on matters related to the temple or the running of the festival.

The other six sub-committees are:

(1) the Devotee Group (Xiang You Hui, ⾹友会), whose members are primarily responsible for the extensive preparation related to the rituals as seen in Figure 10, and who are participating directly in the rituals and carrying of the palanquins (Figure 11);

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Figure 12

(2) the Respect Group (Cheng Jing Hui, 诚敬会), who manage the lion dance troupe dedicated to the temple (Figure 12);

(3) the Sincerity Group (Cheng Xin Hui, 诚⼼会), the group which is responsible for liaising with the other patrons of the temple or participants to the festival and used to co-ordinate with the dancers and actors hired to entertain the crowd in the kampong;

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Figure 13

(4) the Music Group (Yin Yue Hui, 音乐会) takes care of the music ensemble that will perform during the festival (Figure 13) in a uniquely Teochew style;

(5) the Song and Firecracker Group (Ge Pao Hui, 歌炮会) derived from the idiom “⼀炮⽽红” (yi pao er hong), which is the group responsible for co-ordinating with the Teochew opera troupe to perform during the festival and used to be in charge of setting off the firecrackers;

(6) the Women Group (Fu Nu Zu, 妇⼥组): the female members of the temple that perform duties such as the manning of the makeshift stalls which sold offerings during the festival (Figure 14) as well as food preparation for festival participants and devotees (Figure 15).

Preparations for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Part 1: Making of Decorative Yellow Flower Balls

For Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng, preparations for the festival begins approximately around the start of the eighth lunar month. The very first preparation for the festival is the weaving of the decorative yellow flower balls (花球), which are painstakingly hand woven with multiple strips of yellow cloth. These decorative pieces are placed on the palanquins and the statuses of the temple’s deities for the duration of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

The process of making a flower ball is as follows. First, the craftsman (Mr Tan) needs to cut and bundle ten strips of yellow strings, measuring 90cm each, together as seen in Figure 16. Following so, he needs to fold the two edges of the bundle inwards towards the centre (Figure 17) and repeat this motion until all the edges have been folded towards the centre.

The flower ball is completed (Figure 18) after all the edges are neatly folded inwards. The process of making the decorative yellow balls is tedious because it requires a high level of concentration as well as precision in folding the edges. Moreover, it is time-consuming. According to Mr Tan, he said: “for people with my skill level and experience [it] would take an average of one and half hours to make; [for] new people, they usually take about three hours”.

The process of making the decorative flower balls is laborious. However, Mr Tan alluded that the sense of pride and fulfillment overrides the laborious emotion. This is because the hand-woven flower balls are a product of generational teaching, for the method of weaving was passed from an elder to him. Mr Tan noted that the ability to preserve this tradition makes him proud.

Furthermore, spiritual fulfillment is derived from weaving the flower balls because the activity is a demonstration of his [Mr Tan’s] devotion to the Nine Emperor Gods and through the activity he connects with the deity.

However, there were restrictions or strict requirements to adhere to when making the yellow balls, with an emphasis on purity. The volunteers or craftsmen need to be on a strict vegetarian diet. During their period, female volunteers were forbidden from making or touching the decorative flower balls because they are regarded as impure.

The completion of these decorative pieces spanned over several days because the craftsmen were mainly members of the Devotee Group (Xiang You Hui, ⾹友会), who volunteered their personal time after work to complete the weaving of the flower balls.

Preparations for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Part 2: Construction of the Bridge

Another key preparation for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival that is unique to Charn Mao Hern Kew Huang Keng is the construction of the wooden ramp also known as the bridge. Constructed three weeks prior to the festival, this bridge serves a functional and symbolic purpose. Functionally, the bridge extends the entrance of the temple so that the palanquins, participants and devotees can make easy ingress and egress during rituals. Symbolically, the bridge represents the connecting of the two worlds (the celestial and the natural world) where the deities can make their entrance into the natural world.

The construction of the bridge was backbreaking work. Under the sweltering heat, the devotees helping out had to drag the cumbersome wooden planks from the temple backyard (Figure 19) to the forefront of the temple. Next, to form the base, the members erected the metal scaffolds (Figure 20) and positioned the wooden planks accordingly. This action often involved the prolonged arching of the back which might induce strain. Mr Lee, a fellow member of the Devotee Group working on the bridge noted, “today go home confirm back pain.”

Following so, the members placed the thin wooden planks (Figure 21) upon the base and hammered them individually into the base to form the structure. Subsequently, the yellow metal railings were welded into the structure (Figure 22) as the final finishing touches of the bridge. The bridge took approximately four hours to complete.

Although the construction of the bridge was both time-consuming and laborious, the devotees insisted on constructing the entire bridge by hand rather than hire external contractors to perform this menial task. This is because the activity allows them to retain and preserve the kampong spirit. Mr Lee concurred, “it is like the good old days, we [brothers] come and build this together.” Moreover, the members regarded the work as enjoyable instead of tiring as the presence of frequent joking and bantering has lifted the spirits amongst the temple members.

Preparations For The Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Part 3: Spring Cleaning

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Figure 23

A week after the construction of the bridge, the temple members came together again to continue with the preparations for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival by conducting the “spring cleaning”. The main purpose of this “spring cleaning” is to ensure that the temple’s cleanliness is immaculate before the festival commences, as the concept of purity is central to the festival. Every part of the temple, including the inner chamber (内殿), have been dusted, swept, repaired, scrubbed and hosed down with soap and water. The more inaccessible areas were reached by younger and more agile members of the temple as seen in Figure 23.

Upon completion, the temple was adorned with banners, flags, and other items, most of which were coloured in yellow which signified the impending arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods. While some members were putting up various decorative ornaments, other members were actively hoisting up a huge metal pole at the front of the temple. Affixed with a small shrub of bamboo leaves on the top, the metal pole held nine flags and nine yellow lamps, symbolising the Nine Emperor Gods.

Although the “spring cleaning” lasted for the entire day, the temple members showed little signs of fatigue. Instead, they were brimming with excitement about the festival, with one member stating, “it is finally coming, huat ah”.

Preparations for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival – Part 4: Bamboo Cutting Ritual

Another important component of the preparations for the festival is the bamboo cutting ritual. Bamboo is a central feature in many Chinese folk religion rituals as it has been regarded to be a sacred object that signified purity and spirituality. Besides being a symbol of purity, the long bamboo stalk in the Nine Emperor Gods Festival serves as a ‘flag’ or a geographical indicator to inform the Nine Emperor Gods the location to descend. Attached to both a metal pole as well as the Nine Emperor Gods lamp, the bamboo stalk is a primary feature in all Nine Emperor Gods Festivals.

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Figure 24

After being retrieved, the bamboo stems were transported back to Kew Huang Keng. Speedily, the members began to erect the bamboo stems against the metal pole (Figure 24). Effortlessly, one of the experienced members scaled the tall ladder to secure the remaining parts of the bamboo stems (Figure 25).

Anchored to the pole, the bamboo stems stood tall and straight (Figure 26). At the same time, another member skilfully attached the bamboo stems to the Nine Lamps (Nine Emperor Gods lamp) as seen in Figure 27. After securing the bamboo stems, a Taoist priest appeared from the temple. He began to perform a short ritual to “bless” the bamboo which already had talismans pasted on its stem.

The completion of the bamboo-installation ritual marks the end of Kew Huang Keng’s Nine Emperor Gods festival preparations.