Words come easily to describe the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Sam Siang Keng temple in Johor Bahru. It is a place of gentle kindness and warm hospitality. It is above all a feminine place, where the Goddess of Mercy reigns and women are her conduits into the community. I was impressed with the simpleness and openness of the festival here. There is no mention of secrets and mysteries. They don’t even hold their special events at night. It all takes place during the daylight hours! It is well organized and visitors feel at home and comfortable in their prayers. I was met by a whole team of volunteers who cheerfully showed me around, shared stories and photographs and answered my many questions. Every five years a delegation from this temple goes to the temple in Ampang and brings back ash from the Emperor’s urn to JB. Check out their Facebook page.
As many already know, the priestess of the temple is Wee Ah Moi, who is now in her eighties. Her diety is Miaoshan who comes to her to help people who are suffering. Her smile and gentle manner are magnetic. I feel so fortunate to have met her and to have been graced by her calm presence. Her mother was also a medium at this temple and it was when Ah Moi was 18 that she was chosen by the goddess to serve the community through her special abilities.
All those around her are nourished by her strength. The people I met at Sam Siang Keng exemplify the kindness and compassion that are at the heart of both Guan Yin and Wee Ah Moi. The priestess goes in to trance each afternoon during the Nine Emperor Gods festival, offering help to those in need of guidance and encouragement.
So, what did I see at Sam Siang Keng that caught my attention? Well, the most exciting thing for me were the statues of the Nine Emperors that grace the main altar. I was told that they are new this year! It is so wonderful to see them represented and when it is quieter there I will go back and photograph them individually and learn about the qualities of each one. I was also told that each year a different emperor brother comes to the temple for the festival. According to the priestess, this year it is the Ninth brother who is there. Here is the main altar. Ninth brother is on the far left.
The Jade Emperor is in the middle at the back. The Duomo sits in front of him. The large statues at the back on the left and right are the dieties of the sun and the moon. No yellow curtain in JB. It’s all there for those to see. The old, symbolic urn with the pomegranate leaves, that represents the Duomo is also in the open. It sits outside the temple in a special place where she can watch over the boat that will transport her emperor son back to the heavens.
Notice the yellow flag in the hand of the man praying. Here is a photo of people praying at the main altar. Because it is a Guan Yin temple, only those who do not eat any beef, ever, are allowed to kneel before the gods and ask for a flag. Only those granted a positive answer from the gods are given a flag.
So many things are done at the temple in a special way.
People cross it and paper money is waved over them as they cross.
Of course yellow is important here too. Here a man in the office notes donations of packets of rice and spices that will go in to the boat with the Emperor when he returns on the last day. And below, a team makes the ribbon flowers and attaches them to the chairs that will hold the statues of the Nine Emperors and the Duomo during the procession on Saturday, Oct 20.
As I mentioned earlier, the special events during the festival at Sam Siang Keng take place during the day. Wee Ah Moi goes in to trance in the afternoons. The procession will take place on Saturday at noon and the return of the Emperor to the sea happens at 3pm on the last day, and not at night as is the usual in other temples.
One of my favourite things about Sam Siang Keng is an altar that doesn’t have too much to do with the Nine Emperors, but has always interested me. This is the altar to the Datuk – that very Malaysian of Chinese dieties. In this case, they worship Datuk Awang and his sister who sits beside him. This is quite awesome and makes me want to photograph Datuk shrines all over Malaysia and do a book about them!
My visit to Sam Siang Keng was so pleasant because of my hosts there. They sat with me and told me their stories, they showed me around the temple and blessed me with food and a coveted temple shirt, as well as a book on the history of the temple. I will be back as soon as I can. Maybe for the send off on Tuesday!