Devotees throng Tg Tokong temple for first flame-watching ceremony since pandemic began

Devotee Mah Poh Cheow (right) letting his granddaughter Elizabeth have a closer look at the giant joss sticks. - Photo: LIM BENG TATT / The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Devotees flocked back to the Hai Choo Soo Temple in Tanjung Tokong to witness the first Chneah Hoay (flame-watching) ceremony since the pandemic.

The annual event, which dates back over 200 years, was not held in 2021 and 2022 due to the movement control order (MCO) and concerns about crowd control.

With things returning to normal this year, many have resumed their annual pilgrimage. They lighted joss sticks to offer prayers and seek better fortunes for the Year of the Rabbit.

Some let off firecrackers in the temple’s courtyard while others took the opportunity to enjoy local hawker fare nearby during the event on Feb 4.

Attendees included retirees Mah Poh Cheow, 73, and Wong Choy Choon, 70.

They brought along their two-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth to let her experience the festivities.

"Except for the pandemic period, we've been coming every year for decades to seek blessings and pray for our wellbeing," said Wong.

Also taking in the occasion was Russian software developer Artur Vaganian, 33.

"I came for sightseeing in the afternoon and was told by locals there'd be something happening at night.

"I didn't expect such an elaborate celebration. It's interesting to experience this rich display of culture," added Vaganian.

Another devotee, hawker Lim Siew Bee, 54, was also a regular and always waits till the end to catch a glimpse of the flames.

“Hopefully it brings me better fortunes this year,” she quipped.

The flame-watching ceremony takes place around midnight. The temple’s committee members will observe the nature of the flames bursting from an incense urn following three strokes of the fan.

The stability, brightness and strength of the flames will signify the deity Tua Pek Kong’s predictions for the economy for four-month cycles of the year.

The first flame represents the economic fortunes from February to May, with the second covering June to September and the third for October to January.

Before the ceremony each year, the statue of the Tua Pek Kong deity is brought from the Poh Hock Seah Tua Pek Kong Temple in Armenian Street to the Hai Choo Soo Temple, after which it makes the return journey on the following day.

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