THE hot weather had everyone soaked in sweat but it did not dampen the spirit of the 105th Tua Pek Kong Grand Birthday Procession in Miri last Sunday, with over 5,000 participants and 116 floats parading around the city in an array of vibrant colours.
The procession was scheduled to start at 6pm but as early as 2pm, all the participants had already gathered at the temple to prepare for the parade around the city centre, including the Miri Fish Market, the Old Street Chinatown, commercial areas, and shopping complexes.
Devotees believe the procession, covering a distance of 6km, would bring good luck for a smooth year to the places it passed along the route.
While waiting for the procession to start, lion and dragon dance troupes performed around the temple to pay respects to Tua Pek Kong or the God of Prosperity and other deities, as well as to ask for blessings for a smooth parade.
Around 5pm, five consecrated statues of Tua Pek Kong, Zhu Sheng Niang Niang (Goddess of Fertility), Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), Ma Zu (Goddess of the Sea), and Di Mu Niang Niang (Mother Earth Goddess) were placed on the lead floats in a sacred ceremony.
Temple supervisor Tay Choon Wei said only appointed dignitaries are allowed to perform the ceremony. As a sign of a good omen, they have to wash their hands with special leaves before they can carry the statues from the altar to the floats.
The sounds of Chinese gongs, drums, and cymbals heralded the start of the ceremony. Incense burners were carried ahead of the statues to symbolically lead the way to the floats.
The procession attracted participants and spectators from around Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, who came to pay their respects to the God of Prosperity on his birthday.
Among the visiting VIPs were Italian Ambassador to Malaysia Cristiano Maggipinto and his wife Tamara Hardikar Maggipinto, who were deeply impressed with the rich heritage of the Chinese community.
“It’s incredible to see a gathering of this scale – almost similar to the Holy Week Procession in Italy,” Maggipinto said, adding it was an eye-opening experience for them on their first visit to Miri.
Local dignitaries who participated in the ceremony included Assistant Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Lee Kim Shin; Piasau assemblyman Datuk Sebastian Ting; Miri Mayor Adam Yii; and Temenggong Datuk Seri Lee Sie Tong.
The procession wound its way through Jalan Marina 3, Jalan Marina 1, Jalan Bendahara, Jalan North Yu Seng, Jalan South Yu Seng, Jalan Merpati, Jalan Kipas, Jalan Brooke, and Jalan Kingsway, taking nearly four hours to complete.
By 10pm, all the floats had returned to the temple and the statue of the God of Prosperity was brought in and placed on the altar.
For first timers, it was an exhilarating experience despite the long walking distance.
Kate Siew said she could not “feel her legs” after completing the whole route.
“All I know is that it was great although keeping up with the rest of the procession over 6km was a challenge,” said the 24-year-old.
Mimi Yong, 34, said she was exhausted after the walk but it was a lot of fun.
“By the end of the procession, the whole bunch of us was tired but excited. We had a nice supper after that.”
Yong, a mother of two, revealed she took part in the procession in the hopes of getting blessings from the deities for herself and her family.
The birthday of Tua Pek Kong is usually celebrated on the 29th day of the third month of the Lunar Calendar.
Traditionally, a grand procession is held every two years to celebrate the special occasion, which has become a significant event in Miri City.
At the temple on this day, small packets of blessed white rice and amulets are placed at a special corner for the public for free.
It is believed the white rice, mixed with ordinary rice in a rice container, will bring blessings to the whole family.
As part of the celebration, dozens of women, in a goodwill gesture, prepared vegetarian fried mee, kuehtiaw, and beehoon to be given away for free to the participants and spectators.