Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chasing the Fire Dragon (Mun San Fook Tuck Chee)

The Mun San Fook Tuck Chee (萬山福德祠) or also known as  Sar Kong Temple is one of the oldest Cantonese temple in Singapore. Located at 124, Sims Drive it has been under threat for demolishing as the flats around it have been cleared for re-development as part of the Housing Board's Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme. The temple lease has been renewed on a yearly basis only since the expiry of its 30-year lease in 2009 giving rise to concerns that its end is near. 2016 marks is 150th anniversary of the temple's existence and with cautious optimism the celebrations must continue not only for the deities, but as testimony of the communities strength and resolve that no matter what happens, it's cultural practices and beliefs must be passed on to the next generation.

I am fortunate again to be invited to experience this event and join the dinner celebrations, especially after several years of absence as the Fire Dragon performance is not something you get to see every year. I am no expert in this intangible cultural heritage performance, so whatever i write here is based on my observations.

Preparing the Fire Dragon

The transformation of the fire dragon from a normal straw dragon to a fiery involved many volunteers and under very smoky situation with the coiled incense hanging from the tent and the joss sticks being lighted up using burners and then stuck on tightly to the straw bodies of the dragon. The pearl of wisdom which the dragon usually chases this time is represented by a ball of joss stick incense ! I overheard the more senior volunteers telling and demonstrating to more junior the volunteers to ensure that joss sticks is properly planted to ensure no one get's hurt when the fire dragon comes alive.
The straw dragon before its awakening 

Planting the joss sticks and the lighting process

Taking a break. Smoke gets in your eyes

Ensuring the joss sticks don't fall out from the dragon's tail

The dragon troupe in waiting 

Sar Kong Mun San Fook Tuck Chee dragon troupe 

Painting the dragon and planting of joss sticks by temple leaders

The Fire Dragon Awakens

After the blessing rituals and painting of the straw dragon with a red dot using a Chinese calligraphy brush, the fire dragon is awaken with roaring flames. I love the powerful imagery of balls of flames being unleashed into the sky ! The procession leaves the temple and move on to the streets where temple visitors and passerby's got to see this procession rich in history in action. Most would agree that it is rare to see a dragon dance procession which a dragon is made of straw with burning joss sticks and "spits out fire" as it moves along the streets before heading back to the temple.

The fire dragon awakens !

The fire dragon awakens !

Fire dragon greeted by temple visitors

A very long dragon procession

Chasing the Fire dragon 

Chasing the Fire Dragon

Unfortunately i was not able to see the second procession that was held on March 12 at Fu Hup Thong Fook Tak Kung at Kim Keat Lane . I missed the chance to see the burning of the straw dragon, so i can only leave you with photos of the ones i took some years back.

Fire dragon on fire

Smoking fire dragon by the joss sticks stuck into the straw body
My artistic rendition of the dragon

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