Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Penang, Malaysia

Every year on the ninth month in the lunar calendar, devotees revel in age-old traditions to appease the spirits of the Nine Emperor Gods in Taoism.

Known as Kew Ong Yeah in the Hokkien dialect, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is an ancient Taoist tradition celebrated by Chinese communities around Southeast Asia mainly in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Its origins is traced back to Fujian, a coastal province in southeast China where seafarers live, hence why the festival is closely linked with the element of water.

It is celebrated for nine days on the ninth month of the lunar calendar every year.

Image: Win Win

The Nine Emperor Gods festival is celebrated by many Chinese temples in Malaysia, including the Tow Boe Keong Temple in Jalan Burmah, Penang.

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Because devotees go on a vegetarian food diet for nine days, there are many vegetarian food on offer during the festival.

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A typical element of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival include a tall structure made of bamboo, to signify an antenna calling out to the gods.

The festival begins with a welcome ritual on the eve of the first day, and ends with a send-off ritual on the ninth and final night of the processions. The procession takes place from the temple to a body of water (traditionally it’s the sea but it can also be a river or lake). Accompanying the procession are many other activities including dragon dances, prayer rituals, and even a game called ‘Fire Ball’.

Devotees traditionally go on a strict nine-day vegetarian diet during this time, as it is believed that it helps with mental, physical and spiritual purification.

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Dragon dance performance in front of the temple.

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Colourful dancing fish lanterns signify the creatures of the sea.

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In the ‘Fire Ball’ game, a medium plays around with a scorching steel ball while devotees must try to protect the ball from hitting the audience.

There are many folktales associated with the significance of this festival, including one that depicts the Nine Emperor Gods as the nine sons manifested by Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun and Mother of the Big Dipper Dou Mu Yuan Jun, who holds the ‘Registrar of Life and Death’.

Another interesting fact about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is that also coincides with the Hindu festival Navratri, a celebration of Goddess Durga which also takes place for nine days on the ninth lunar month.

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During the Nine Emperor Gods celebrations, devotees wear white while mediums wear yellow.

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A medium in a state of trance during a procession for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

Image: Win Win

On the ninth and last night of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, a ship float makes its way to the sea.

GETTING THERE: The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated in Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. Plan your holiday and grab low fares via today.

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Written by Irvin Hanni

Irvin enjoys conversations with the trees and the stars. Sometimes they share recipes, sometimes they share jokes.

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