Johor Ancient Temple Chingay, The Grandest Deities Parade in Malaysia
In other Chinese areas, the atmosphere of Chinese New Year fades right after the Lantern Festival. However, in Johor Bahru, the town is still bustling with excitement even after the 15th day of the first lunar month, and the atmosphere is even more enthusiastic, because for the people in Johor Bahru, the New Year is not officially over until after the 20th day of the first month.
"Go home and join the Chingay Festival!" is a must-attend event for Johor Bahru people every year. The five-day-long festival is not only about the strong yelling of “Heng ah! Huat Ah!” but it also carries the people’s nostalgia to the native land and veneration of Deities.
The five major clans is a unique structure of the Chinese community in Johor Bahru. The five clans have their own associations which include Teochew Eight Districts Association, Hokkien Association, Johor Bahru Kwong Siew Wai Kuan, Hakka Association and Persatuan Hainan Johor Bahru.
The five deities enshrined in Ancient Temple are worshipped by each of the five clans, and it is under the promotion of the five clans that the Chingay Festival has been held for more than a hundred years and has become increasingly exciting as well as an international event, showing the world the mobilisation system and power of the Johor Bahru’s Chinese community.
The slogan “Ancient Temple Spirit and Five-Clan Harmony” refers to the fact that each clan has its own role to play and works closely with the Johor Bahru Chinese Association to safeguard the rights and interests of the Chinese community and to maintain peace in the community, making the Ancient Temple a symbol of the Chinese community’s spirit in Johor Bahru.
The 18th day of the First Lunar Month: Lighting Ceremony
The Lighting Ceremony at Xing Gong Temple marked the beginning of the Chingay Festival.
The 19th day of the First Lunar Month: Street Washing Ceremony
On the 19th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, at 11:00 am, the Johor Ancient Temple Management Board led the committee and a group of devotees to walk from the temple to the procession route passed by the deities on their nightly tour, sprinkling holy water steeped in pomelo leaves and pomegranate leaves while sprinkling white rice, salt, and tea leaves on the ground. It means to ward off evil spirits and pray to the deities for a smooth parade. There is a myth going around that it will trigger rainfall on the day of street washing.
After the street washing ceremony, the crowd returned to Ancient Temple for the sedan chair ceremony. During the tour, the devotees would shake the sedan chair vigorously, so the skill of tying the sedan chair is challenging. The temple hall was abuzz with excitement as the representatives of the five clans and the bridge guards tied up the sedan chair in an orderly manner amidst all the commotion.
The 20th day of the First Lunar Month: Deities Leaving Ancient Temple
The 20th day of the first lunar month is the Parade of Deities, which means that the Deities are invited to move to Xing Gong Temple. Although the ceremony started at 11:00 a.m., the devotees had been waiting outside the temple since around 9:00 a.m., and the crowd was enormous. The order of parade was Zhao Da Yuan Shuai, Hua Guang Da Di, Gan Tian Da Di, Hong Xian Da Di and Yuan Tian Da Di. When the Deities came out one by one, the devotees outside the temple held joss sticks and worshipped, occasionally shouting "shake, shake, shake", and the members carrying the sedan chair shook it vigorously from side to side, which made the scene exciting and surging.
Upon arrival at Xing Gong Temple, the five Deities were seated in the order mentioned above, and rows of stages are set up in front of them, where the special theatre and performances of the deities of different origins would be staged. At nightfall, the five stages were used to stage a synchronised performance of the opera of each origin, with lion and dragon dances underneath, bringing out the cultural essence to the fullest extent.
The 21st day of the first lunar month: Night Parade of the Deities
The Night Parade of the Deities is the climax of the Ancient Temple Chingay Festival. In the evening, Xing Gong Temple was crowded with people wearing T-shirts of different clans waiting for the official start of the parade as if they were participating in a carnival.
After shouting “Heng ah! Huat ah!” repeatedly, the five deities were carried out of Xing Gong Temple in order and paraded along the main streets of Johor Bahru on an 8 km procession route. 2023's Chingay Parade is the first to regain its former glory since the outbreak of pandemic, with approximately 300,000 people joining the parade.
The century-old Ancient Temple Chingay has been passed down to this day, which is like a big magnetic field and the identity of the Chinese in Johor Bahru. It is an important festival for the Johor Bahru Chinese people to search for collective memory and reintegrate the social order as well as power structure.
The 22nd day of the first Lunar month: Return of Deities to Ancient Temple
With the ceremony of Deities returning to Ancient Temple, the festival officially rang down the curtain.