Nine Emperor Gods Festival

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is generally held from the last day of the eighth lunar month to the ninth day of the ninth lunar month among Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.1 It begins with the welcoming of the gods into the temple where they are to be worshipped for nine days, and ends when the gods are sent off on the ninth day.2 The festival is known for the temple processions that take place during the celebrations.3 The oldest and most prominent temple in Singapore dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods is the Hougang Tou Mu Temple on Upper Serangoon Road.4

Nine Emperor Gods
There are multiple accounts of who the Nine Emperor Gods (also known as Jiu Huang Ye in Mandarin) are and what their worship represents.5 The earliest account is that of the Jiu Ren Huang, according to which the Nine Emperor Gods were reincarnates of the Nine Human Sovereigns, who were in turn the sons of the goddess Dou Mu.6 After gaining enlightenment, Dou Mu imparted her transcendental knowledge to her nine sons.7 Her sons became the star deities known as beidou jiuxing, which are known in the Western constellations as the Northern Dipper.8 Dou Mu, as the mother of the Northern Dipper, is also known as the Dou Mu Tianzun (Heaven-honoured Bushel Mother).9 Together with her husband, she controls the pivot of the North Pole, around which the nine stars revolve under the surveillance of her sons.10 According to the Taoist belief, the Northern Dipper controls the fate of individuals and the welfare of the state. In addition, the northern direction is associated with the water element – the symbol of life and death – and Dou Mu is known as a merciful water spirit who offers protection for seafarers.11


Another written account, according to the book Xinjiapo Xun Gen, states that the Nine Emperor Gods were personified as Lu Wang, the ninth prince of the Ming dynasty. He was worshipped in honour of his efforts to overthrow the Qing dynasty.12 In Singapore, an oral account holds that the festival is held in remembrance of a tragic flooding incident in China’s Fujian province, where the gods appeared beforehand to warn people of impending disaster.13

Origin of the belief in Singapore
Worship of the Nine Emperor Gods is said to have originated in Fujian, China. Apparently, a youth from China, Lin Yin, brought to Penang scrolls of the Nine Emperor Gods. The scrolls now lie in the temple of the Nine Emperor Gods in the town of Ampang in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.14


There are multiple accounts of how the veneration of the Nine Emperor Gods then arrived in Singapore.15 According to some accounts, a businessman by the name of Ong Choo Kee was in Penang to make a business deal, and made a vow to worship the Nine Emperor Gods for the rest of his life in exchange for a successful deal. He subsequently returned to Singapore, bringing with him either the statue of one of the gods or an amulet representing all nine, and installed it in a small temple near his home. He later built a temple dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods along Upper Serangoon Road, which is known today as the Hougang Tou Mu Temple.16

In another account, tin miners in Kuala Lumpur during the early 19th century began succumbing to a deadly illness. It was said that Ong Choo Kee, this time a physician, happened to be in sole possession of an original sacred text from China belonging to the Nine Emperor Gods. He visited the miners and, whilst there, became possessed by the spirits of the gods. The deities spoke through Ong and drove away the evil spirit responsible for the miners’ illness. Ong then came to Singapore and set up a small temple along Upper Serangoon Road dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods. Two rich men, Ong Chwee Tow and Ong Koi Gim, later donated large sums of money to the temple, and a new one was built on the site. The structure, which still stands today, was gazetted as a national monument in 2005.17

Nine Emperor Gods Festival
Devotees believe that the Nine Emperor Gods bestow wealth and longevity on their worshippers.18 Rituals held during the festival differ among temples in different countries.19


Vegetarian ritual and raising of the jiuqudeng
The festival begins on the last day of the eighth lunar month with the raising of the jiuqudeng, which refers to an oil lamp with nine wicks.20 The lamp is raised to invite divinities to the temple grounds in celebration of the festival. It has to stay lighted throughout the nine days as it is a sign of continuous divine presence.21 The vegetarian ritual starts on the same day, when Jiu Huang Ye followers are expected to abstain from meat in order to purify their bodies.22 Aside from not eating meat, the vegetarian ritual requires bathing, changing of clothes, and abstaining from other strongly flavoured foods like garlic and alcohol.23

Welcome ritual
The welcome ritual is typically held on the same day – the last day of the eighth lunar month.24 A street procession starting from the temple proceeds to a nearby river or sea where the gods are to be invited.25 The procession consists of lion and dragon dance troupes and devotees following behind sedan chairs carrying statues of accompanying gods as well as the sacred urn.26 Bearers of the sedan chairs, who are dressed in white, sway the chairs forcefully to symbolise the presence of divine forces.27 A spirit medium who may accompany the procession points out places where supposed evil spirits lurk.28 A Taoist priest or medium will then purify the indicated spots.29


For the Hougang Tou Mu Temple, the invitation of the gods is carried out at the Serangoon River.30 There the priest invokes the spirits of the Nine Emperor Gods and invites them to descend into the urn.31 When the sacred ashes in the urn burn vigorously, it is a sign that the gods have arrived. The urn is then carried back to the temple and kept from public view.32

During the nine days of the festival, worshippers visit the temple with offerings to ask for the blessings of Jiu Huang Ye.33 One of the activities during this period is the bridge-crossing purification ritual, in which participants receive charms, yellow threads or a Jiu Huang Ye seal stamped on their clothing to ward off the evils of the past year.34 Since the demolition of its old stage in 1998 to make way for the expansion of Upper Serangoon Road, the temple has constructed a temporary stage every year for Chinese opera performances as entertainment for the deities.35

Spirit medium possession and the fire-walking purification ritual are also associated with the celebration of this festival.36 However, these two rituals are no longer commonly seen in Singapore.37 Other unique features of the festival in Singapore include visiting other Nine Emperor Gods temples, which has been in place since 2005. In 2009, the parade visited other religious centres such as churches and mosques.38

Sending-off ritual
The ritual to send off the gods starts on the ninth day with the transfer of the sacred urn to the sedan chair, and a procession to the Serangoon River for Hougang Dou Mu Gong.39 The procession is accompanied by lion dancers, stilt walkers and musicians playing drums, cymbals and gongs. At the river, the Taoist priest conducts the ceremony to send off the gods. The flaming urn is placed in a small boat on the river, and everyone waits silently for the boat to move, indicating the gods’ departure.40 The festival officially concludes with the lowering of the jiuqudeng on the 10th day.41 This is followed by the ending of the vegetarian ritual in which six bowls of raw pork are offered to the White Tiger Deity (Bai Hu Ye).42 Other temples conduct their sending-off ceremonies at other sites like East Coast Park and Sembawang Beach.43 

Major Nine Emperor Gods temples in Singapore
Long Shan Yan Doumu Gong (龙山岩斗母宫) at 791 Ang Mo Kio, Avenue 144

Choa Chu Kang Doumu Gong (蔡厝港斗母宫) at 2 Teck Whye Lane
Cong Mao Yuan Jiuhuang Gong (葱茅园九皇宫) at 28 Arumugam Road
Fengshan Gong (凤山宫) at 49 Defu Lane 12
Jing Shui Gang Doumu Gong Fengshan Shi (汫水港凤山寺) at 561 Yishun Ring Road45
Hougang Doumu Gong (后港斗母宫) at 779A Upper Serangoon Road
Jin Shan Shi (金山寺) at 25 Jalan Ulu Siglap
Longnan Shi (龙南寺) at 280 Bukit Batok East Avenue46
Leongnam Dian (龙南殿) at 70 Sengkang West Avenue47
Nan Shan Hai Miao (南山海庙) at 701 Bedok Reservoir Road48
Shen Xian Gong (神仙宫) at Jurong West, Street 4249
Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan (玄武山翰林院) at 236 Jurong East, Street 2150



Author

Lee Meiyu




References
1. Cheu Hock Tong, The Nine Emperor Gods: A Study of Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 15. (Call no. RSING 299.5109595 CHE); Cheu Hock Tong, ed., “The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in Peninsular Southeast Asia,” Chinese Beliefs and Practices in Southeast Asia: Studies on the Chinese Religion in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia (Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, 1993), 17. (Call no. RSING 299.510959 CHI); Liu Liqing 刘丽清, 全岛同庆九皇诞 持斋9天 修持自身 [Celebrate the birthday of the Nine Emperor Gods across the island, hold fast for 9 days, practice yourself], Xin Ming Ri Bao新明日, 15 October 2017, 9. [Microfilm NL34359]
2. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 28–38; Ruth-Inge Heinze, “The Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” Asian Folklore Studies, 40, no. 2 (1981): 151–171. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Norman Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities,” Straits Times, 2 November 1990, 2; M. T. Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay,” Singapore Free Press, 22 October 1947, 4. (From NewspaperSG); Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Thong Bee Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, 2006), 383–84. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
4. Leon Comber, Chinese Temples in Singapore (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1958), 19, 81 (Call no. RSING 299.51 COM); Yam, ”Festival of the 9 Deities”; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
5. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 16; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 17.
6. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 20; Comber, Chinese Temples in Singapore, 20; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
7. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 20; Comber, Chinese Temples in Singapore, 20.
8. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 16; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 20; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
9. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 20.
10. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 20; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
11. Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–171.
12. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 22–23.
13. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 27; Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
14. Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–171.
15. Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 567–68; Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities.”
16. Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–171; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 567–568; Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities.”
17. Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 568.
18. Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
19. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 33; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 19.
20. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 33; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 19.
21. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 35.
22. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 28.
23. 欢庆九皇大帝圣诞 [Celebrate the nine emperor gods Christmas], Xin Ming Ri Bao 新明日, 18 October 2017, 21. [Microfilm NL34359]
24. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 33–37.
25. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods” 29; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
26. Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities”; “Inter-religious Parade for Taoist Deities,” Straits Times, 22 October 2009, 38 (From NewspaperSG); Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
27. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 38–39; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 384.
28. Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–171.
29. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 39; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
30. Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities.”
31. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods” 29; Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities”; Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
33. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 30–31.
34. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods” 34–36; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
35. Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–171; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 568.
36. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 37; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods” 31–32, 34, 36–37; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
37. Alan John Anthony Elliot, Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore (London: Royal Anthropological Institute, 1955), 167–69 (Call no. RCLOS 299.51095957 ELL);  Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 384.
38. “Inter-religious Parade for Taoist Deities”; Xu Liying 徐李颖, ed., Jiu huang sheng ji: Hougang Dou mu gong九皇圣迹:后港斗母宫 [Sacred site of the nine emperor gods: The Hougang Dou Mu Temple] (Singapore 新加坡: Hougang Tou Mu Temple 后港斗母宫, 2006), 88. (Call no. Chinese RSING 203.5095957 XLY)
39. Yam, “Festival of the 9 Deities”; Leong, “Kew Ong Tai Tay”; Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore” 151–71; Koh, et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 383–84.
40. Heinze, “Nine Imperial Gods in Singapore,” 151–71.
41. Cheu, Nine Emperor Gods, 154; Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 19.
42. Cheu, “Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods,” 38.
43. Luo Miaoting 罗妙婷, 全岛16九皇庙 万人恭送九皇爷 [There are 16 nine emperor gods temples across the island], United Evening News联合晚报, 18 October 2018, 6. [Microfilm NL34611].
44. “Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong 龙山岩斗母宫 Longshan Yan,” BeoKeng, last retrieved 3 December 2019; Long Shan Yan Doumu Gong 龙山岩斗母宫, “Long Shan Yan Doumu Gong 龙山岩斗母宫,” facebook, n.d.
45. Xu, Jiu huang sheng ji: Hougang Dou mu gong, 104–05.
46. Xu, Jiu huang sheng ji: Hougang Dou mu gong, 104–05.
47. Beokeng, “Leng San Giam Dou Mu Gong.”
48. Xu, Jiu huang sheng ji: Hougang Dou mu gong, 104–05.
49. “Shen Xian Gong 神仙宫,” Nine Emperors Gods Project, last retrieved 3 December 2019.  
50. Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan 玄武山翰林院, Xuan Wu Shan Han Lin Yuan, 玄武山翰林院, facebook, 3 December 2019.



Further resources
Erik Cohen, The Chinese Vegetarian Festival in Phuket: Religion, Ethnicity, and Tourism on a Ssouthern Thai Island (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2001). (Call no. RSEA 394.269593 COH)

Malaixiya dou mu gong jiu huang da di zong hui 马来西亚斗母宮九皇大帝总会 [Douxun] (May 2005). (Call no. RSEA 390.089951 DX)



The information in this article is valid as at December 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Festivals--Singapore
People and communities>>Customs>>Festivities
Chinese--Singapore--Religion
Ethnic Communities>>Festivals and Celebrations
Ethnic festivals
Legends--China