Glowing predictions in fiery ritual

Sparks of hope: Poh Hock Seah Temple committee members observing the intensity of the flames during the ceremony. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The night sky here was lit up during a traditional ritual, with devotees gathering for a “flame-watching ceremony” to find out their fortunes for the year ahead and to pray for prosperity.

Fireworks were let off as the annual Chneah Hoay event, which dates back over 200 years, began at 12.01am yesterday when all the lights were switched off and oil lamps and candles were snuffed out at the Hai Choo Soo Temple in Tanjung Tokong here.That was when the economic outlook was “revealed” for the Year of the Dragon.

There was the clanging of cymbals while embers in the deity Tua Pek Kong’s urn were kindled.

The first flame, which was ignited at 12.06am, indicated that the year ahead would be good.

The second and third flames lit up at 12.07am and 12.08am respectively.

Poh Hock Seah Temple honorary secretary Lim Hooi Kooi said they started watching the flame at 12.01am.“It took a while to come up and only rose at 12.06am. But it was a strong flame, signifying a good first four months.“The second and third one came up quicker but were not as strong as the first flame, signalling it would be an average year-end.

“The overall outlook this year is good as we could not see any weaknesses,” he said, adding that this year’s predictions indicated a better economic year compared with last year.

Each flame represents a four-month cycle in the lunar calendar, which roughly corresponds to the period of February to May, June to September and October to January in the Gregorian calendar.

This divination of the year’s economic prospects is based on the stability, brightness and strength of the flames.Throughout the night, firecrackers and fireworks were let off while others lit giant joss sticks embellished with twinkling LEDs.

Among the faithful who gathered on Friday night was Liew Ze Ming, 29, who came to show gratitude for prayers answered last year.

He was accompanied by his two brothers Ze Feng, 27, and Ze Hao, 31. They were seen lighting a large paper-made pineapple as part of their offering and symbol of prosperity.

Ze Ming said their business took off after they visited the temple last year, so they decided to attend the ceremony to thank the deity.

The Ipoh-born siblings run a pet grooming salon and shop here in Penang.

“It was a good year for us, so we are back at the temple to pray for our family and everyone’s health as well as our business.

“Last year, we lit a small joss stick. This time, we bought the biggest one as (our) offering and also to thank the deity.“The joss stick comes with a pineapple called ‘ong lai’ (which sounds like ‘fortune comes’ in the Hokkien dialect),” said Ze Ming.Before the Chneah Hoay ceremony each year, the statue of Tua Pek Kong is brought from the Poh Hock Seah Temple at Armenian Street to the Hai Choo Soo Temple.

It makes the return journey the next day.

This year, there was a grand procession to mark the return journey.

The procession takes place only once every 12 years.

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