The Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Chinese: 九皇爺; Pinyin: jiǔhuángyé; Hokkien: Kow Ong Yah; Cantonese: Kow Wong Yeh) is a nine-day celebration observed primarily in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Introduction to the Nine Emperor Gods
The Nine Emperor Gods Jiǔ Huáng Xīng Jūn / Jiǔ Huáng Da Di (九皇星君/九皇大帝) are the nine sons manifested by Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun (斗父周御國王天尊) and Mother of the Big Dipper Dou Mu Yuan Jun (斗母元君).The worship of Dou Fu Yuan Jun has declined strongly as proper teachings of Taoism degenerate since being exported out of China. Today, most Nine Emperor God temples do not acknowledge the existence of Dou Fu Yuan Jun. However, Dou Fu Yuan Jun is invoked alongside Dou Mu Yuan Jun in Great Dipper Honouring known as Li Dou (禮斗) ceremonies.
The term Ye (爺) as in Jiu Huang Ye (九皇爺) loosely translates as "Grandfather", a title worshipers commonly use to bring a more intimate relationship between themselves and the Nine Emperors. The Nine Emperor Gods should not be mixed up with the Wang Ye or Princes of the Ming rebels. Popular folk culture has it that the Nine Emperor Gods are actually sea pirates of the Ming dynasty that plotted to overthrow the Qing dynasty. This information is inaccurate and considered derogatory to the actual teachings of Taoism as the Nine Emperor Gods are actually high ranking Star Lords who preside over the movement of planets and coordinate mortal Life and Death issues. The Nine Emperors is formed by the 7 stars of the Big Dipper of the North Ursa Major (visible) and two assistant stars (invisible). When viewed closely, the arrangement of the 7 stars "the Ladle" and the 2 assistant stars on its left and right resembles a Yin-Yang pattern form.
The Nine Emperor Stars are:
1. Tan Lang Tai Xing Jun (貪狼太星君)1st Star (Visible) Bayer: α UMa
2. Ju Men Yuan Xing Jun (巨門元星君) 2nd Star (Visible) Bayer: β UMa
3. Lu Cun Zhen Xing Jun (祿存貞星君) 3rd Star (Visible) Bayer: γ UMa
4. Wen Qu Niu Xing Jun (文曲紐星君) 4th Star (Visible) Bayer: δ UMa
5. Lian Zhen Gang Xing Jun (玉廉貞綱星君) 5th Star(Visible) Bayer: ε UMa
6. Wu Qu Ji Xing Jun (武曲紀星君) 6th Star(Visible) Bayer: ζ UMa
7. Po Jun Guan Xing Jun (破軍關星君) 7th Star (Visible) Bayer: η UMa
8. Zuo Fu Da Dao Xing Jun(左輔大道星君) 8th Star (Invisible)
9. You Bi Da Dao Xing Jun (右弼大道星君) 9th Star (Invisible)
Nine Emperor Gods Festival Celebration in popular folk culture
On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine emperors. Since the arrival of the gods are believed to be through the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea-shore or river to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies.
A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. It is believed that there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration.
The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession which draws scores of devotees send the deities back home (a waterway such as river or sea).
Celebration in Thailand
In Thailand this festival is called Tesagan Gin Je เทศกาลกินเจ, the Vegetarian Festival. It is celebrated throughout the entire country, but the festivities are at their height in Phuket, where about 35% of the population is Chinese.
During a period of nine days, those who are participating in the festival dress all in white and gin je กินเจ, which has come to be translated as abstinence from eating meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products. Vendors and proprietors of restaurants indicate that je food is for sale at their establishments by putting a yellow flag out with the word เจ (je) written on it in red. However, technically, only food prepared in the sacred kitchen of the Chinese temple (in Thailand, called san jao ศาลเจ้า or ahm อ๊ำ) is je, as it must undergo a series of rituals before it can be given that name.
Mah song ม้าทรง are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Mah ม้า is the word for horse in Thai, and the name mah song refers to how the spirits of the gods use the bodies of these people as a vehicle, as one rides a horse. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become mah song. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced. The mah song tradition doesn't exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam.
The festivities in Phuket include a procession of mah song wearing elaborate costumes who pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of things, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers. While the face is the most common area pierced, some also pierce their arms with pins and fishhooks. Teams of people accompany the mah song to keep their wounds clean and to help support the heavier piercings. It is believed that while they are possessed the mah song will not feel any pain. They can also be seen shaking their heads back and forth continually, and usually do not seem to "see" their surroundings. At the temple during the festival there is also firewalking and blade-ladder climbing. While large crowds of people gather to watch, the entranced mah song distribute blessed candy and pieces of orange cloth with Chinese characters printed on them, yang ยังต์ for good luck.
- Festivals of Malaysia Nine Emperor Gods Festival
- 九皇爷诞 Website of Nine Emperor Gods Temple of Butterworth, Penang Malaysia
- 聚理斗母宫九皇大帝网站 Website of Nine Emperor Gods Temple of Sungai Petani, Kedah Malaysia
- Nine Emperor Gods 九皇大帝 Temple in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
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