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Saturday, 24 February 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Legend behind Hokkien New Year emphasises unity and solidarity

TODAY’s celebration of Jade Emperor’s birthday, which falls on the ninth day of the first month in the lunar calendar, is especially significant to Hokkiens because legend tells of a miracle that saved an entire village from persecution.

Klang Hokkien Association president Datuk Teh Kim Teh said the story was of a Hokkien community in the coastal town of Fujian, China, who lived in constant fear of sea pirates.

The village was attacked on the eve of the Jade Emperor’s birthday and while fleeing for safety, a field of sugar canes appeared before them.

Tam goes into a trance to invite the spirits of five general’sbattalions to guard the temple.

Tam goes into a trance to invite the spirits of five general’sbattalions to guard the temple.

In desperation, the men ordered the women, children and elderly to hide between the stalks.

Assured their loved ones were out of harm’s way, the men then turned around to fight the enemies and vanquished them in numbers so great that they never returned again.

“This why sugar canes are a must in the prayer offerings to the Jade Emperor.

“It is a sign of gratefulness for the miracle that had saved them,” said Teh.

Devotees of the Yoke Wong Thai Tay Temple in Section 21, Petaling Jaya, seeking blessings from the Jade Emperor.

Devotees of the Yoke Wong Thai Tay Temple in Section 21, Petaling Jaya, seeking blessings from the Jade Emperor.

Representing a 400,000-strong Hokkien community in Klang, Teh said it was no surprise why the celebration is known as “Hokkien New Year”.

“From this story, we learn that unity, solidarity and the active participation of the community is necessary when it comes to facing challenges,” said Teh.

In Section 21, Sea Park, Petaling Jaya, Yoke Wong Thai Tay Temple devotees demonstrate the spirit of solidarity every year with a grand offering of fruits and flowers as well as elaborate rituals to celebrate the occasion.

One fascinating ritual sees devotee Tam Wai Keong, 55, going into a trance to embody the spirit of the Supreme Commander of the Five Generals, the Jade Emperor’s bodyguards.

In this two-hour ritual, devotees invite the spirits of the generals’ battalions to guard and protect the temple.

In Taman Eng Ann, Klang, devotee William Huang, 49, said his budget for prayer offerings this year was RM500.

A table laden with fruits, flowers and cakes at the Yoke Wong Thai Tay Temple as offerings to Jade Emperor.

A table laden with fruits, flowers and cakes at the Yoke Wong Thai Tay Temple as offerings to Jade Emperor.

Among the essentials in his offering is a paper house surrounded by Eight Immortals, a big dragon robe complete with crown, boots and belt, gold paper as well as joss sticks.

Describing his offerings as modest, he said some devotees would go as far as presenting a whole roasted pig to honour the deity.

As pineapple is a symbol of luck and prosperous beginnings, prayer items shopowner Ng Yih Tien said joss paper fashioned into the shape of this festive ubiquitous fruit was popular among devotees.

“The practice now is to have selfies taken with the paper pineapples before they are burnt,” she said.

Joss paper fashioned into the shape of a pineapple is increasingly popular during the Hokkien New Year.

Joss paper fashioned into the shape of a pineapple is increasingly popular during the Hokkien New Year.

Another popular item for the deity’s birthday celebration is a confection of wheat noodles (mi sua) assembled in the shape of a tower to signify eternal longevity.

Stall operator Chan Heei Jin, 38, said it was common for devotees to purchase “upgraded versions” of wheat noodle cakes, going for higher towers every year to signify betterment and improvement of one’s endeavours.

Despite the ninth day being the Jade Emperor’s birthday, the Kwan Imm Temple in Klang, which is devoted to Goddess of Mercy Kuan Yin, will also be celebrating the event.

“As the Jade Emperor is the highest authority in heaven, it is only right that devotees pay respects to this deity too.

Sugar canes are a must in the prayer offerings to Jade Emperor.

Sugar canes are a must in the prayer offerings to Jade Emperor.

“Although we may not have an image of this deity in our temple, as long as devotees have the Jade Emperor in their hearts, their prayers will be heard,” said its principal Shi Fa Zhuo.

This festive season will see up to 30,000 devotees flocking to the temple’s 125-year-old grounds and Shi clarified that attendees would not be charged any parking or entrance fee.