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From fire walkers to horse dancers, here are some of Singapore’s more eye-opening festive celebrations
Singapore's annual calendar may be packed full of exciting happenings, but a handful of intriguing, centuries-old traditions take place well away from tourist eyes.
Check out these four obscure but oh-so-interesting occasions:
Nine Emperor Gods Festival
Come the ninth lunar month (starts October 23 in 2012), while the rest of this island gets on with modern life, a little-known ritual unfolds in a corner of Singapore.
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival may not be the biggest occasion in these parts, but it is met with almost fanatical devotion by members of the Jiu Wang Yeh Taoist sect.
As its very name suggests, this pious party revolves around some heavyweight VIPs.
The Nine Emperor Gods are said to be heavenly beings who possess great influence over earthly matters. History suggests the festival was long practiced in southern China, before early Hokkien immigrants brought it over to colonial-era Singapore.
These days, little has changed in the way this event is observed.
The center of the action is at the Kiu Ong Yiah Temple, along Upper Serangoon Road. Here amidst a carnival-like atmosphere of dragon dances and Chinese opera performances, devotees take turns carrying the “sedans” -- shoulder-held shrines bearing an emperor god.
The celebration reaches its peak on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.
Accompanied by cheering and furious drumbeats, the sedans are paraded around and swung vigorously to honor their ghostly occupants. This is revelry fit for nine kings, they say; with psychic rewards that are well worth the efforts.
Silver Chariot Procession
On certain evenings in Singapore, don't be surprised if you come across a crowd of devotees accompanying a strange, glittering carriage.
Chances are you've bumped into a silver chariot procession, one of the many colorful traditions of the local Indian community.
Held regularly during Hindu festivals like Thaipusam (February 7, 2012) or Deepavali (November 13, 2012), this solemn yet cheerful parade pays homage to members of the Hindu pantheon.
Silver chariots are dedicated to specific deities -- be it the goddess Draupadi or the warrior Lord Murugan -- whose image is enshrined on its topmost pedestal.
The best place to see this time-honored ritual is along Little India's main roads.
The Hindu Endowments Board website posts a yearly schedule of processions, including exact times and starting points.
The event typically begins at a local temple, its route stretching anywhere from a few blocks to a whole district. Follow the crowd to one of the many prayer stations to witness Hindu religiosity at its fullest, with folks offering flowers and heartfelt prayers to their object of devotion.
If you're lucky you might even get to see a poikkal kuthirai troupe --Tamil horse dance performers escorting the silver chariot.
Tang Ki Spirit Communicators
To address one's god is a common activity in all religions. For the god to respond, however, is a truly rare occurrence -- unless one is a believer of the tang ki: spirit mediums who act as a direct line to the Taoist gods.
The tradition of the tang ki has long been part of Singaporean culture, the roots of this practice hailing from Southern China.
Although the notion of spirit communicators isn't confined to Taoism, its manifestations are nothing short of bizarre.
Tang kis are supposedly possessed by deities during a spirit session. Dressed in godly attire, they fall into a trance and then proceed lick razor blades and even step on sharp swords; all without registering any pain.
Later on they give advice to their devotees on just about any aspect of life.
The busiest time for these godly individuals is during the seventh lunar month (August 2012), when restless spirits are said to roam the earth.
Tang kis have been known to help cure illnesses or even find missing persons. Some say they are for real, others believe they are fake.
One thing is for sure, though: watching them in action will redefine your notion of a worldly, 21st-century Singapore.
Followers of the Hindu deity Draupadi aren't kidding when they tell you they will walk through fire to show devotion to their god.
In fact, they do this every year as part of an age-old Indian tradition. Held usually during the month of October, Theemithi, or firewalking, is the climax in a series of rituals that usher in the Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.
From Little India's Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, practitioners make a four-kilometer-long walk to the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.
Here is they prove their purity to the goddess. Watched by a huge crowd and egged on by the shrill notes of the nadaswaram -- a native trumpet -- the barefoot devotees traverse a long bed of searing hot coals.
This prayer of pain starts around midnight and ends in the early hours of the morning, with more than 2,000 participants putting their feet to the flames.
Blisters aside, this is a soulful night for the devotee, and a truly eye-popping experience for the culturally curious.