Worshipping The Nine Emperor Gods During A Pandemic
Credit: nineemperorgodsproject, @bryantan0610
Like many events before, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival has been downgraded due to the pandemic. If you’ve never heard of the festival, you’re not alone. I have never heard of it before yesterday either and my parents are Taoists-Buddhists.
We are now moving towards the end of the festival, which occurs over nine days from 16 to 25 October this year. The dates are, of course, based on the lunar calendar, which varies from year to year. The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated annually from the last week of the eight lunar month to the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. The festival has a few highlights which draws large crowds and participants, a big no-no during any pandemic.
According to a zaobao article, the popular seaside rituals and float parade will not be allowed to go ahead for this year. This former is when the sacred urn to brought to the seaside by male devotees and priests all dressed in white, to welcome the nine deities to this world. As seen in the picture above, there is also the procession during which male devotees carry and vigorously sway a bling-ed out sedan to symbolise the presence of the gods. Then there is the closing of the festival, where an elaborately decorated paper boat is set off into the sea and set alight. The latter resembles a smaller scale Chingay event, where floats prepared by devotees and temple staff are paraded through the streets. The Festival is so popular that guidelines were issued by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) specifically for this festival on its website.
There are about 13 temples in Singapore that take part in the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. The oldest is Hougang Dou Mu Gong temple at Upper Serangoon Road, which has stood in the same location for nearly a hundred years. (It was previously located at a different part of Hougang.) Though this festival is noted for its exclusion of female devotees during certain portions, there is an exception. Xuan Wu Shan temple, which is in Jurong East, has only one sedan and it is only carried by women.
Girls dressed up for a Navarathiri music and dance performance | Credit: Sattiskumar Kesavalu
During the Nine Emperor Gods Festivals, devotees only eat vegetarian food. This has an interesting parallel with the Hindu Navarathiri Festival, which is from 17 to 26 October this year.
The Navarathiri Festival also takes place over a period of nine days and is observed in a myriad of fashions and for a variety of reasons, depending on the community. According to this article on The Star, this is when adherents in Malaysia pray to Goddess Amman to celebrate the victory of Goddess Parasakthi over the demon king Mahishasuran. Hindus also observe a strict vegetarian diet during the nine days of celebration.
Have you ever taken part in a religious street procession? What was it like? Let us know by liking our Facebook post and leaving a comment!