Monday, February 18, 2013

Bai Tian Gong

Bai Tian Gong (拜天公) literally means praying to the Heavenly Grandfather. After some research only did I find out that actually the Heavenly Grandfather refers to the Jade Emperor (玉皇). In Chinese folk culture, the Jade Emperor is the ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below including that of Man and Hell. He is one of the most important gods in the traditional Chinese religion pantheon. However, in actual Taoism, the Jade Emperor governs all of the mortals' realms and below but ranks below the Three Pure Ones.

The worship of the Jade Emperor, or bai tian gong takes place at the strike of midnight of the 9th day of the Chinese New Year. Mainly practiced by Hokkiens, there are two legends that relate to the origins of this practice, one of which I am more familiar with.

During the Ming Dynasty, the coastlines of China were often raided by Wokou or Japanese pirates. There was one Chinese New Year when the Wokou plundered the coastal region of Fujian. As the villagers ran for their lives, they prayed to Tian Gong for protection and came across a field of sugarcanes, where they hid. After the Wokou left, the villagers returned to their homes. This day was the 9th day of the Lunar New Year and since then, the Hokkiens offered prayers of thanks to Tian Gong on this day of the Chinese New Year.

This year, for the first time in my life, I joined in to bai tian gong. I did not realise that it was such a big deal for the Hokkiens.

The whole of OUG was in war, a war of fireworks and a war of whose offerings were more elaborate.

Normally, there would be offerings of roasted pig, duck, fruits, incense, mock gold paper and such. This year, the Kohs decided to go vegetarian.

Sugarcane stalks tied together with red ribbons or paper strips are always included as remembrance of the protection provided by the sugarcanes.

At the end of the prayers, the mock gold and elaborate mock mansion are burnt to be 'sent' to Tian Gong.

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