Saturday, March 8, 2014

Loud, Lively Chingay

Chingay or "yeou shen" literally means to parade the gods. It is an annual tradition that dates back to at least 145 years of history where the Johorean Chinese would walk along a 9km route on the night of the procession and parade the deities from the five main clans that are housed in the Johor Baru Ancient Temple - Yuan Tian Shang Di (Teochew), Hong Xian Da Di (Hokkien), Gan Tian Da Di (Hakka), Hua Guang da Di (Cantonese) and Zhao Da Yuan Shuai (Hainan).

But not many people know that the Chingay procession is actually part of an elaborate ritual that spans out across four days starting from the night of the 18th day to the 22nd day of the Lunar New Year. A simple lighting ceremony takes place on the night of the 18th day, to signify the start of the Chingay ritual.

On the second day, devotees will gather at the Ancient Temple along Jalan Trus for the street-cleansing ceremony. This is when devotees use pomelo leaves to sprinkle the 9km procession route with water soaked in tea leaves, raw rice and salt, under the blazing hot sun, by foot. Accompanied by loud clangs of cymbals and drums, this is to ward off "evil spirits" on the streets and to tell them that the deities would be crossing the paths soon. Usually after the ceremony, heavy rain would ensue, no matter how hot the weather was before and devotees believe that it is the gods way of properly cleansing the streets of the city centre. When the devotees head back to the temple at around 2pm, they start to clean the five main deities with cloth and water and place the deities onto their respective palanquins, ready for the next process on the following day.

On the third day the devotees would gather once again at the temple to usher the deities to be placed at the Xing Gong in Jalan Ulu Air Molek, a temporary abode for the deities which is also the starting point of the procession for the next day. This is accompanied by lion and dragon dances to liven up the streets.

The fourth day is climax of the whole event where thousands of Johoreans, tourists, devotees and just people from all race and religion would line the streets in the city centre to watch the procession go by. Most of them will gather in front of a special stage set up in Jalan Wong Ah Fook, which best signifies the Johorean Chinese community, to watch side shows. The procession, including colourful floats and performances, accompanies the deities on their tour. By around 5pm before the event starts, the city centre would be congested as roads are closed and rerouted to make way for the procession. The procession usually kicks up at 7pm sharp and would end at around six hours later or more. When the deities pass by the people, devotees would put their palms together in respect and shout "heng ah!" and "huat ah!" for good prosperity and fortune.

On the fifth day, the deities are returned to the temple and everything goes back to normal after a simple prayer ceremony.

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Unloading one of the palanquins to place the deity in.

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What a rare sight for the streets to be this empty.

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Rare chance, must take a photo!

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.. before being photobombed.

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The first deity is here!

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Swaying it from left to right to give good blessings to the city.

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One of the creative dragons

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I was not working on the day of the procession but I still went for it with my colleagues to watch it. It is almost becoming a yearly tradition for me since I started working with the paper even from my part-time days. I am always in awe of the tradition and culture that are heavily laced with the procession. I guess because I am not very in touch with my Chinese culture and this procession makes me understand my heritage more and it really does make me feel proud to watch it. It really is a sight to behold. Maybe next year I shall join in on the 9km route. That'll be a new experience.

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