Culmination – Balance in Fire and Water

The send off for the Emperor has long been one of my favourite parts of the Nine Emperor Gods festival. I am used to the Ampang style of send off and the Hong Kong St rituals were very different. I really enjoyed experiencing the Penang tradition of taking the Emperor back to the sea.

The Yeoh jetty was gracious in undertaking some repairs, so we did not have to slog through the muck, or wade through water. I was grateful. (I certainly prayed for personal balance as I walked down the ramp of the jetty!) The photography conditions were challenging but the aura was good. Balance. That is what this is all about. Yin and Yang, hanging in the balance.

1. Here is the Emperor’s Urn being respectfully and carefully brought down the jetty.

2. The yellow boat arrived from the procession route and was set on the dock.

3. Then the urn was placed gently in the boat and was covered with sandalwood powder, joss sticks, candles and joss papers.

Careful attention was paid to ensuring that the contents of the boat were evenly distributed. The boat maker “guarantees” that the little boat is sea worthy so it is up to the temple to ensure that it isn’t lopsided when it is lowered in to the water.

4. With the boat secured by human strength to the side of our fishing boat, off we headed to the open channel. On the jetty well-wishers watched and took photos as we headed out. I would have thought that they would have been on their knees, heads bowed, but only a few showed that level of reverence.

5. No post here would be complete without something a bit more esoteric to reflect my state of mind. In fact, due to the fact that we were tossing about on the seas, this effect was a bit too prevalent in my photos!

6. Once we had reached open water, at some place out there in the darkness that was known only to the seafarers in our group, the small boat was set alight.

7. Slowly it was released to its own devices. We held our communal breaths as it listed a bit, then settled in to the waves.

8. We circled the boat three times. It was a protective act to ensure that the fire burned well in the cradle of the sea. This is the last shot that I took of the boat. The buildings of the port at Butterworth can be seen in the distance.

I was surprised that we didn’t stay until the boat became one with the water. I was looking for that finish, the moment of “poof” when Fire and Water merged and balanced. But perhaps I need a little more wu wei – knowing when to act and not to act and allowing things to happen. My motherly instincts wanted us to stay with the boat until it was gone, until the Emperor was in the heavens again. But, of course, tradition prevailed and the rest lit a cigarette, left the Emperor to do what Emperors do at sea in a small burning yellow boat, and we headed quietly back to shore. 9. Nary a glance back, minds already on something else.

Next year isn’t too far off, is it?