Sunday, 12 August 2007

The God of War

The birthday of the 20 year old Guan Di temple at Jalan Minyak Beku was celebrated with pageantry from the 23rd to the 25th of June of the Chinese lunar calendar. Guan Di, or Guang Gong or Guan Ye (160- 219) who was also known as the God of war was one of the most celebrated Chinese military generals in Chinese History. Guan Di, together with his sworn brothers, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei was lionized in the historical novel, ‘The Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. To this day, Guan Ye is worshipped in many Taoist and Buddhist temples not only in China, but also in parts of the world where there are Chinese people.

The layout of the celebration at Guan Di temple at Jalan Minyak Beku

Stories abound as to how the temple has helped many people. One story concerned how a goldsmith was warned not to display expensive gold items in his shop during the one week in question. His shop was later robbed and fortunately he heeded the advice and he did not lose much. Another concerned a child born sickly who was brought to the temple by his grandmother to be blessed and he grew up to be a healthy teenager of 16.

The main temple where the generals and other deities reside.

The pantheon of generals and deities in the main temple

Outside the main temple sits the statue of Buddha

A devotee praying for good luck

The imposing temporary altar set up in front of the main temple for praying by the faithful

A temporary covered area to allow devotees to seek advice from the medium

A temporary stage to perform the Hokkien opera at night to entertain the generals and deities

The ‘heavenly stairs’ erected from tables to invite the generals and deities to come down to earth.

The five paper steeds of the generals

On the first night, the Hokkien troupe from Johore Baru staged their performance.

There was also a lion dance to add to the festivity of the occasion. The medium, carrying a flag and a sword was prancing and cantering, reminiscent of a general on a horse, as he led the lions from one ritual to another.

The lions making their way to the main temple.

The pair of lions kowtowing to the generals and deities

The medium carrying a flag and a sword surrounded by three attendants who would follow and interpret the gestures and sign language of the medium.

On the second night which is the actual birthday of Guan Di, a pig and goat which were donated were delivered and blessed by the Taoist priest. The pig and goat were later roasted and served to the members and guests of the temple.

A pig and a goat donated by the faithful

The medium attending to devotees

Part of the crowd that thronged the temple.

A section of the crowd that gathered underneath the tent set up to provide food and drinks.

As the night wore on, another pair of ‘green’ lions performed their acrobatics to the appreciation of the spectators.

Two of the committee members responsible for planning and organizing the celebration taking a breather.

On that night too was a modest auction of rice, bottles of wine, cooking oil, hampers of canned goods, sugar, vermicelli, whiskey, packs of Guinness Stout, school bags, money boxes, and even a bicycle.

The most important event for the devotees was the crossing of a ‘bridge’ flanked by members of the temple and led by a Taoist priest. The ceremony was to bless the worshippers and "reverse their misfortunes and bad luck". The devotees assembled themselves according to their Chinese zodiac signs to cross the bridge led by the Taoist priest.

The Taoist priest giving last minute instructions on crossing the ‘bridge’

Those born in the year of the snake

As the Taoist priest chanted his mantra and shook the bell in his hand, those born in the year of the snake would follow his across the ‘bridge’.

The finale of the night was a small fireworks display which enthralled many children.

On the third night, which is the last night of the celebration, there were yet another lion and dragon dance. By the third night however, the crowd had thinned.

The dragon circling the makeshift consultation area after paying its respect at the main temple.

Two golden lions showing off their choreographed moves to the enthusiastic crowd.

The pair of lions paying their respect to the generals and deities.

After the dragon and lion dance, the devotees made their way home and the members of the temple completed their tasks of clearing the compound of tables and chairs, dismantling the ‘heavenly stairs’, the temporary altar, and removing rubbish from the temple compound. It was quietly and efficiently done.

According to the temple chairman, the cost of engaging the Taoist priest, the lion dances, the dragon dance, and the Hokkien opera troupe alone came to a tidy sum of 8000 ringgit.

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