The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
Last week we ventured to the outskirts of the city to witness a very special festival. The Nine Emperor Gods is a Chinese festival and is celebrated once a year at specific Nine Emperor Temples around the country (it is also celebrated in places such as Thailand and Singapore although not, strangely, in China.)
It continues for nine days and we visited twice; once on day 6 and again on the final day. Being a Saturday, day 6 was incredibly busy. We had read a little about the origins of the festival and some of what goes on there but we were unprepared for the sheer amount of people and incense. We caught the LRT to Ampang and had about 2km to walk to the temple. Approaching the temple the vendors started; selling incense of various sizes, food, toys, balloons and parking spaces.
Before we reached the temple itself we explored some of the stalls outside. One of the vendors saw our cameras and invited us to visit his friend’s house where they were making ang khoo; a type of red, turtle shaped bun made only during this festival, usually as offerings but also to eat. We followed him only a few metres from his own stall and into a private home which was a hive of activity. Outside, most of the family were constructing the turtle buns and preparing them for steaming. Inside, Chun was decorating them beautifully.
Chun was kind enough to give us a pair of small turtles to keep for ourselves with the messages “happy” and “safe” for luck on our journey and also gave us a large one to eat. The small ones we have dried in the sun as instructed and we did try the large one but to be honest it was not that tasty. There is no filling inside them like the buns or “bao” we usually enjoy filled with char siu pork or red bean. It was quite plain really, but very pretty.
Feeling quite honoured that we had been invited into a private home when they were obviously very busy, we carefully packed away our turtles and continued towards the temple itself.
Arriving there we were greeted by scenes like this.
You can see how thick the smoke was from all the incense, and this was still outside!
After buying the multi packs of incense (at a very reasonable price, I think) the devotees used the small candles to light them and then distributed them around at the various alters inside and outside of the temple, saying a prayer at each one.
Here you can see several devotees with pots of flat sticks, they are for fortune telling and are very popular among the devotees. The pots is shaken until one stick comes out which is taken behind the bars and interpreted by one of the staff there. The noise of these ritual shakings was one of the background noises of the day. The was no singing inside the temple while we were there.
As our eyes were streaming after about 10 minutes of being inside we had to take regular breaks. On one of these we found a giant outdoor incense burning area. We left this area covered in ash!
Also outside with the food and incense sellers were a few more unusual services such as the mole removals being done in this next picture…
Later on the temple was emptied of all devotees and the men who had been previously tending the incense urns formed a human chain to pass out all of the offerings to the sound of a cymbal type instrument and a drum. Not very melodic and it took quite a while. They all passed through the hands of the main man in the black and red outfit. (By this time we had no one to offer us explanations as to what was going on.)
As night fell we got some delicious food and headed home, knowing that we would return in a few days time in the hope of catching some of the more dramatic rituals undertaken by some devotees.
When we returned the following Tuesday our first impression was that it was far less busy. The temple itself had room to move and devotee seems to be taking longer in prayer (perhaps because the levels of smoke were a little more bearable.)
Shortly after we arrived there was a large gathering of mostly older, mostly female devotees dressed entirely in white outside of the temple. Many of the stalls had been moved away to make a large open space and they were about to watch several men (mediums) hit themselves with swords in a trance state.
The bench was taken up by several men doing the same sort of thing with the swords and this was then followed by a blessing of many buckets of food for the God’s armies. They will actually be eaten by the people of the temple but there was an enormous amount of food there.
We also had time to catch some of the opera being performed (we were the only members of the audience while we were there.) Apparently it is popular in the evenings but we were not too keen on the music really although the costumes were impressive.
After this we explored the area again and took some more photos. We were pretty tired and hot though so when the heavens opened we decided to make out way back to the hotel for a good rest.