16 February 2012 | Last updated at 12:21AM
Barge-ing into hell to exorcise Malacca's evil spirits
By Jason Gerald John and Kelly Koh Ling Min
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IF evil spirits are present in a Chinese home, its occupants would call a priest to get rid of the evil spirits, during which time the family has to leave the house until the ceremonial prayers are over.
Goh Kok Him, 57, (left) menunjukkan cara menerima wahyu daripada tuhan bagi perayaan Wangkang kali ke-4 sambil diperhatikan demonstrating how one receives a message from the Ong Yah deity before a ‘wang kang’ festival is held as Te Choon Hua, 51, looks on.
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It is certainly a most sombre event.
However, the wang kang (royal barge) festival, which is aimed at exorcising evil spirits, does so in a celebratory manner, with thousands of people thronging the streets of Malacca to witness the significant festivities held once every few decades.
The festival is an age-old tradition of the Hokkien community to "cleanse" a place of evil spirits.
It was held recently for only the fifth time in the last 150 years. Previous celebrations were held in 1919, 1933 and 2001, but there are no records of when the first was held.
The 2012 festival organising committee chairman, Lai Poon Ken, 55, said the wang kang is only held when the temple deity, Ong Yah, receives a message from the heavens to hold the event.
"Evil spirits are blamed for the epidemics and chaotic events that have affected mankind throughout the ages. Cleansing is required for a healthy and happy environment for the people of Malacca.
"Wang kang is a unique event as it is not an annual event like Chinese New Year or Chap Goh Meh. But it is an important event in the Lunar calendar, especially for the Hokkien community with Taoist beliefs.
"Last year, we got the message from Ong Yah, and I was chosen to initiate the festival," said Lai.
As early as 6am, members of the Hokkien community began to gather at the Yong Chuan Tian Temple in Bandar Hilir for the procession.
From the temple, the procession proceeded for 20km along the streets of Malacca, including Jalan Bukit Senjuang, Jalan Laksamana Cheng Ho, Jalan Bunga Raya, Jalan Hang Tuah, Jalan Ong Kim Wee, Jalan Tengkera, Jalan Kubu, Jalan Hang Jebat, Jalan Portugis, Jalan Masjid, Jalan Kampung Hulu, Jalan Kota and Jalan Parameswara before heading back to the temple.
Lion and dragon dance troupes, floats with small boats driven by motorcyclists, were among the groups and structures comprising the procession.
There was a chingay troupe showing off their stunts such as balancing a towering flag pole.
There were also stilt-walkers clad in colourful, traditional Chinese costumes, young children throwing candies and Ong Yah who was paraded on a sedan chair.
The procession made several stops when ceremonial sedan chairs were tossed up into the air.
The main attraction of the procession was the quaint but majestic barge.
It was pulled by some 30 devotees with ropes tied on both sides of the barge.
The barge seemed to glide along, even when the procession came across rough patches on roads like Jalan Merdeka, and when going uphill like Jalan Pulau Melaka.
At junctions, or residences of important personages linked to the festival, the chai lian tau (the captain) standing on the barge would wave the centipede-shaped flag several times.
Meanwhile, chai lian kah (the crew) "rowed" the barge with their ornamental oars as they shouted, "peh, peh, peh, lok peh, lok lok peh, lok peh", ("paddle, paddle, paddle away the evil spirits", to the accompaniment of gongs and drums.
In the evening, during the second part of the festival, some 10,000 people made a beeline for Pulau Melaka across the Straits of Malacca, armed with cameras.
Once on the island, they chose several sites from which to best capture a photo of the wang kang procession as it made its way back to the temple and the "unknown realm beyond" as the barge was set ablaze.
At this point, the atmosphere was electrifying as a fireworks display simultaneously lit up the sky with stunning colours.
It is believed the royal barge "took on board" evil spirits as it burnt, thus destroying the malicious demons.
As the barge was burning away, people walked away as well.
They were very careful to not look back.
This was because looking back would bring misfortune by spirits hell-bent to do evil to those tempted to break tradition, even as they burn on their way to annihilation.
Read more: Barge-ing into hell to exorcise Malacca's evil spirits - Central - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/streets/central/barge-ing-into-hell-to-exorcise-malacca-s-evil-spirits-1.47312#ixzz1mVep5Kub