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A week after the Nine Emperor Gods festival, we were invited to attend a dinner celebration for the devotees of Tow Boo Kong Taoist Temple in Butterworth.

Chandra and I thought, it must a kind of thanksgiving dinner for the devotees, the committee members and the organizing members of the Nine Emperor Gods celebration. Since it was a saturday night and our legs were itching to get out off the house, we went.

Thanksgiving Dinner at Tow Boo Kong Temple

And off we went, dressed up for a dinner party in the Tow Boo Kong temple ground. We arrive to see a different scenario.

Nine Emperor Gods Deputies Birthday in Tow Boo Kong

9 Emperor God Deputies Birthday Celebration

Curious, we walked to the temple ground after parking the car which I have made a dent when reversing. I was not in a happy mood after denting the car but still made myself presentable. Anyway, it looked like another big celebration going on. We saw devotees bringing food stuffs, sweets for children, birthday cakes and big bottles of sweets in a PACIFER bottles!

Goodies for the Deputies in Butterworth

Goodies for the Baby Gods or Deputies of Nine Emperor Gods

Was I going to laugh or keep quiet. Being inquisitive, I asked around and was told. It was a double celebration. The dinner together with offering thanksgiving prayers for the deputies who worked so hard during the Nine Emperor Gods festivals. The deputies or Siam Tai Chu or baby gods entertained us with their mights in sword play, throwing of the spikey ball, firewalking, playing with oil and spear skewering.

Outside the temple, cooks were getting the course dinner ready for the diners.

Guest for Birthday Dinner in Butterworth

Devotees at the Birthday celebration of Siam Tai Chu Tow Boo Kong Temple

In the compound, where we saw fire-walking, fort crossing, hot oil being played, now in place were tables lined with red cloth. No longer yellow cloth, no more vegetarian food in sight. On the ground now, were temporary shed for the Siam Tai Chu (Nine Emperor Gods Deputies) tables of food offering.

Puppet Show in Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth

Puppets show for the Birthday celebration of Nine Emperor Gods Deputies, The Siam Tai Chus’

Puppets show was shown to the delights of the crowd. Gosh how long ago was this? Puppet show or “Char Kar Lay” after the Chinese opera all in one month. It really makes me miss my childhood. We used to bring our own stools to the market place during these types of festivals, like Hungry Ghost or Nine Emperor Gods. It was real fun, no worries and escape dad strict watch out. Girls cannot stay out till late at night, but for these kind of festivals, he relaxes his rules.

Girlie came and we got to the table. This lady LOR CHU was very popular after having performed all the roles and responsibility without any hinges. The devotees smiled and shook her hands. Standing beside her, Chandra and I felt very happy for her.

Her two assistant Lor Chu were supportive, her 36 managers crowded around the table where we sat. Fun, chats and jokes were cracked happily. Chandra and I were formerly introduced to the group but we have seen them during the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

Girlie Karaoke to the delight of the crowd

The main temple committee Chairman and some important community leaders made speeches. For entertainment, karaoke was the common event to have during Chinese dinner. So who do you think was called to sing? Your guess is as good as mine. By popular request, the Presiding LOR CHU sang three numbers, an english old song and two mandarin oldies.

Bidding for the biggest Yellow sack

Girlie and her managers auctioning for the biggest yellow sack

Then there was an auction of the yellow Sack which were money or donation collected during the various events of the Nine Emperor Gods festivals. There were more then five auctions done that night.This yellow sack of price money are considered pure money from the devotees. And having being blessed by the Gods, every bussiness man wants to have this precious gift.

Winners of the highest auction

The highest bid was Rm12888 and equally shared by five people. The bid started off by one person but when it got higher, more friends joined in to contribute to make the bid higher. You should see the fun they had, shouting to raise the bid, some backing off. When it reaches over RM10,000, five people decided to make one last attempt to close it at RM11,999 but was toppled. And they bid again so they could get the highest. The highest finally went to Girlie and her managers at RM12888. Easily that night, they collected over RM60,000.

Yam Seng, Chinese ways of good times

David, Girly’s brother (3rd from left) joined by his mates cheered after Girly won the auction. Any chance for drinking, they will drink, dance and merry making. While they challenged each other to drink, I cant helped but be amused by ladies challenging man to DRINK!

The Nine Emperor God Deputies

The drinking and merry making would not have stopped if the gongs and cymbals for the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods is not sounded. No one would run to the other part of the temple.

I went over to witness, as one by one of the deputies getting into trance like state. Ooh aren’t they happy when they arrived. Pacifiers in their mouth, hair tied up in hill like style. Seeing all the food and goodies on the table, they started to get excited. Instead of eating, the devotees tease them to give the goodies to them.

The Deputies giving away goodies in Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth

Right in front of my eyes, they climbed up the table and started to distribute to the shouts of the crowds. It was so funny seeing the deputies teasing the devotees back. Some devotees were lucky to receive big packets of goodies, some just got a sweet. Within half an hour, all the food, fruit, cakes and sweets were thrown and distributed by the deputies.

On the same night, the following year teams of managers were drawn through lucky draw were chosen. About 200 over names were placed and volunteered by devotees or surrounding communities people. Those chosen will be next year deputies “manager”, the human guardian for the deputies.

Approving the Yellow Sack winning in Butterworth

Before midnight, all the yellow sack must be blessed by the Siam Tai Chu before taking home. So I followed them to the altar and observed the whole process of signing and blessing the yellow sack.

Contrary to what people think, this Tow Boo Kong is not a rich man’s temple. It is the ordinary community people or traders temple. Why, because to built this temple, the ordinary people donated freely towards the funds and present day maintenance. Each time, there is a festival, earnings through collection were auction off.

That is one method they collected the donation. The other obvious method is donation through buying joss stick or oil. The bigger method would be offering to build pillars or foundations in parts for the temple. In that, one has to approached the few man sitting outside the temple whenever you visit the temple.

Well, if you want to be remembered for your kind deeds, your chinese name will be engraved if you offer a certain amount, I can’t remember how much.

Cheers

The Nine Emperor Gods Festivals, so far is for me an amazing, and out of this world’s experience. You have to be in Penang or Butterworth to witness the ever devout devotees keeping the nine days vegetarian diet. The daily rites and rituals performed by the mediums are unimaginable.

Believe you me, it is REAL! But I am glad it isn’t that extreme then the ones performed in Phuket.

At any time of the day or night, the Nine Human Sovereigns (Tai Chu), will leapt into trance like behavior and accordingly the caretakers of the Tai Chu will clothed them. By the behavior and action of the trance, the caretakers were able to identify the arrival of Tianying, Tianren, Tianzhu, Tianxin, Tianqin, Tianfu, Tianchong, Tianrui and Tianpeng.

Besides that we get to see other so called friends of the Nine Emperors God, Na Cha or Chek Kong came and went. Some are healers so paper talisman will be given to those in deed of help.

Butterworth 9 Emperor Gods Festivals

Many of the rituals and performances does not require an understanding of legends and myth. Many devotees carry out the rituals and rites without knowing that it is related closely to the legends, myths and symbols.

Faith in the beliefs of their ancestors is more important, so as long as they have faith the myths is of little concern. Faith in the power of the Nine Emperor Gods to cure sickness and confer luck, wealth, and long life is sufficient o induce devotees to participate in the rituals. The fact that their ancestors believed and participated in the rituals is evidence enough of its authenticity and efficacy. Myth, therefore, is taken as a matter of faith rather than as a matter of fact.

I had the opportunity to follow the Raja Uda Nine Emperor Gods Temple Festivals closely and was able to understand some of the events that were performed yearly. It was great to hear the explanation in English as the presiding trustee(Lor Chu) was Girlie Chuah, the first English speaking lady. I felt truly blessed. Most times, in my quest to learn more about our cultures and tradition, not many were able to give a clear explanation as they could only explained about it in Mandarin.

During the nine days of the festivals, I saw some feats and performances which quite difficult to explain or comprehend.

Welcoming Ritual

Before the commencement of the 9 days events, there was the welcoming ritual. But first the five generals, their 30,000 to 90,000 armies need to be invited.

Installing the Five Generals

Then Lor Chu Girlie will be led holding the urn under a silken umbrella through a street procession. You wont get to see her holding the urn as she is inside or under the umbrella and 2 flags of the eight trigam by 2 disciples. It was indeed a sacred rituals as, when she moved out form the temple to the special float, all bowed in reverence. Gongs, cymbals and drums are sounded. Listening to it, one can feel the grandeur and style of the occasion.

Once reaching the seaside of Pantai Bersih, it was another night one cannot forget. 3 temple seniors went down to the sea to receive the Nine Emperor Gods. It was evident a moment all bowed down again as the Great One approached.

Welcoming rites at Pantai Bersih

Purification Rituals

Some of the purification rituals of these Taoist festival includes playing with hot oil. The “Tai Chus” in their trance like hour, lights up the fire by first drinking the oil in their mouth and blowing onto the fire. These was performed for a good vigorous hour. i was quite a distance away as the heat was so intense. At first I thought the oil was not hot or boiling. I moved to have a closer look and could not go closer. The heat is real intense. As the oil flows down their body, I see no scars neither on their hands nor body. I wont make any joke of it but seeing those young men earlier not in trance and now in trance completely amazed me. Eyes closed, hands keeps inserting in hot oil to scoop into their mouth, spitting the hot oil from the mouth like dragon spewing fire. An unbelievable hour but it did happen.

Playing with Hot Oil

Herbs and spices were later added to brew for a few hours. Once it cools down, devotees each purchased a bottle for use. It can be use to rub on your tired body or any other body problems. This is how strong the belief the devotees has. Remind me of the days my dad would use these so called oil on us when we were young.

Mediums in hook and spear rod in Nine Emperor Gods Festivals in Butterworth

The next event is even scarier then Thaipusam. If you think Thaipusam is scary, you cannot imagine this! Nine mediums waiting turns to skewered their mouth with a 9 feet spear rod. One even had both done on him, the 9 feet spear rod and 36 hooks on his back. It was really too much for me, I was so scared but am impressed. I remember years ago I did not want to witness this rituals as I was too scared.

Firewalking and crossing the fort is next. Anyway, all these rituals and ceremonies preformed during the Nine Emperor Gods are a kind of purification rituals. They involve the belief the devotees had in the spirit meduims, the Taoist priest and the deities too.

It is in this tableau of eligious ceremonialism that the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is
most vividly seen as a community rite of cosmic renewal or rebirth. The ritual leads the community from the state of yin to the state of yang, or as the temple authorities put it, to “birth beyond death.”

As a devotee, observing the vegetarian rituals is not difficult. If one does not cook at home, the temple serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper all free. One temple impresses me greatly as they served a 10 dishes lunch or dinner meal to their vegetarian devotees.

Some even said that they now felt reborn having witnessed the many rituals Nine Emperors and his sub gods have rid them off. Read some live event and explanation, here. As I wondered at the many blessings I too received. I felt truly blessed and revived.

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