On the 9th day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar, it would be the celebration known to the Hokkiens as ‘Bai Tian Gong’, which literally means ‘praying the Heaven God’.
During a Chinese New year of the Ming Dynasty, there was a bandit raid in the province of Hokkien. These intruders however robbed and burned down villages, attacked and killed the villagers. The people of the villages were in fear and escaped from their burnt villages during the night.
Some of the villagers then hid themselves among the sugarcane fields. Needless to say, those villagers prayed to Heaven God (Tian Gong) for salvation during their hideout. The pursuing intruders spent many days trying to locate and hunt them but to no avail. On the ninth day of that Chinese New Year, they finally gave up and returned to their region.
The Hokkiens then happily emerged from the sugar cane fields, and praising the blessings of the celestial deities and owing gratitude to the sugarcane plants for saving them from destruction. Thus, in all Hokkien celebrations, the sugarcane plant is given prominence.
Realizing that it was also the 9th Day of the Chinese New Year and coincidentally the birthday of Heaven God, they decided to make votive offerings and prayers to the Jade Emperor for their salvation. There are many version of the Hokkiens’ Bai Tian Gong stories. Whichever it is, the Hokkiens believe that our life and prosperity are granted by the Heaven God.
On the eve of the 9th day, a pair of sugarcane plants are used by the Hokkiens usually placed one on each side of the offering table or the front door of the house. The pair of the sugarcane symbolises unity, cooperation and strength. The sugarcane itself is a symbol of harmony and a token which can bring good and ‘sweet’ results. The very straightness of the sugarcane stem also ensures that the Hokkiens can become a clan of honest and sincere people.
My friend Angeline brought me to visit some Nyonya houses celebrating Bai Tian Kong. It was very red and some grand. Angeline had to return home to celebrate it with her family. We parted out ways, said goodbye and will keep in touch.
As I wondered further on, we went to the river boardwalk, sat by the bench and admired the night sky. People watched and saw some river cruise passed by. And the sky amazingly was lighted up with cracking fireworks. For like 8 minutes. When it ended, I cycled on exploring the river boardwalk.
Towards the end, we saw a temple burning gold paper. Beautiful sight! Blazing fire! See the pictures attached. As I took some pictures of the temple, and sideways of the temple, the temple people invited us in to celebrate. They asked us to come in and partake in their celebration. We ate some cake, drinks and ate oranges. I was full, so drank and ate a little. Mostly, I was more intrigued with the food and drinks offered for Bai Tian Kong-the Heaven God. And the decorations of this deity’s celebration.
It was past 1.00 am as we said our thank yous to the temple people who invited us to the celebration. As we said our good byes, I took my last picture and said a quiet prayer in my heart.