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At this point in my saga, I am just over half way, day seven of the 9 Emperor Gods Festival. On this evening participants walk on live coals and fire. I say coals and fire because in some ways it is like two different events.
By the time we arrive (I photographed this with Pete DeMarco and Simon Bond) the bricks in the Tow Boo Kong Temple courtyard have been pulled up and a shallow fire pit has been made. The fire has been burning for some time by now. It is mostly coals with only a few burning embers.
Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed. This action effectively readies the bed by compacting the coals and stamping out any flames. After they get it looking they way they want temple officials start throwing salt on the red hot coals. For some reason, this changes the surface to black with the red embers under it. My thoughts are it also drops the temperature of the surface or insulates it.
However, with that said, while the coals are still very red a whip is cracked and one of the lead mediums takes off running over the coals. He does this two or three time as if to test it for the rest of the soon-to-be walkers.
Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals. Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk the coal by one of the “baby” mediums.
By this time any red coals on the surface were long gone. If one ever did appear someone would stop the procession and toss salt on it and then let it continue. The line of participants seemed to be endless. Some did it two or even three times. Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.
Then without any notice, several members of the festival committee started tossing folded paper money onto the coals. The paper was not real currency, but money printed for the spirits. The money, of course, smoldered and soon burst into flames. While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.
Soon it was over. The fire burned itself out, and people wandered away. Already thinking about Sunday evening, the last night. The night they send the emperors back to heaven.
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