Thursday March 4, 2010
Power of the White Tiger
By MAJORIE CHIEW
The White Tiger Festival, which falls on Saturday, draws devotees to the temple to seek protection against evil-doers.
AFTER a long hibernation in winter, the “White Tiger” wakes up in spring. It opens its mouth (presumably to stretch its jaws) and hauls itself up to forage for food.
Lo, this hungry beast on the prowl has a huge appetite and needs to be satiated. The Chinese (particularly the Taoists) who worship the White Tiger deity believe that if it is well-fed, it will let them off and turn protector instead.
“When the White Tiger opens its mouth, it wants to feast, literally speaking. The Chinese know that the time has come to fete it,” explains Lam Ah Peng, 53, caretaker of Kuan Tai (God of War) Temple in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. The 122-year-old temple is managed by the Selangor and Federal Territory Kwong Siew Association.
This year, the White Tiger Festival falls on March 6. This feast day is also called “The Day The White Tiger Opens Its Mouth” and devotees will throng temples to make offerings to the deity to ward off evil and get rid of bad luck.
This deity can also be worshipped on two special days: the second and 16th day of each lunar month.
This year, those born under the zodiac sign of the Tiger, Monkey, Pig and Snake, are said to have offended Thai Sui (the Grand Duke of Jupiter) and need to pray to him. This year’s Thai Sui happens to be the White Tiger, says feng shui master Wong Keen Ming.
“Remember, the White Tiger must be feted with uncooked duck eggs, not salted duck eggs or preserved century eggs!” he quips, adding that the tiger’s favourite are duck eggs. You can also stuff the tiger’s mouth with tofu or lard.
The tiger’s lair
At the Kuan Tai Temple in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, the White Tiger deity is placed at the end of the hall, in the furthest left corner. There is a wall for devotees to stick paper effigies after worship. Just before every new lunar year, this section of the wall be given a facelift with a new wallpaper.
The White Tiger is represented by a figurine of a ferocious beast with its mouth wide open. Also displayed is another figurine of a military figure with a leg raised to step on the tiger. According to Lam, the “tiger tamer” is General Chui Kong Ming (or Chui Kong Ming Yin Sui).
Most big temples have the White Tiger deity in their midst. Those who feel that they have bad luck will pray to the deity to ask for blessings and protection.
“Businessmen also worship this deity, hoping that Samaritans will help them in their ventures. They also pray that they will not fall prey to cheats. The sickly will pray for good health and strength, and some even pray to avert calamities!” says Lam.
The White Tiger deity is not a deity that you can put in your house, explains Lam. A ferocious creature, its rightful domain is in the temple.
“The White Tiger isn’t your zoo tiger; it represents a celestial star. It is forbidden to be placed in the household; it can overshadow the inhabitants who may court bad luck instead.
“It is believed that this powerful deity rules over loitering spirits and has the power to subdue them. Those who seek its help will be protected from harm,” Lam says.
Wong also warns: “Don’t pray to the Tiger deity when worshipping the Earth deity and never have a White Tiger deity in your home. The Chinese believe that the home is no place for the White Tiger as you may never know if you can tame it. What if it decides to turn rebel and devour the inhabitants instead?”
Satiating a hungry beast
Besides the usual paraphernalia like joss-sticks, candles and incense papers, food offerings such as raw meat, lard, uncooked chicken or duck eggs, sesame seeds and mung beans are laid out before the deity.
The lard is used to wipe the Tiger deity’s mouth to appease it. Devotees hope that by doing so, they will be able to get rid of backstabbers who spread malicious gossip and try to sabotage them, says Lam.
Besides shaking off enemies or putting a stop to their evil plans, the White Tiger deity is also worshipped by those who seek protection from accidents and mishaps.
Lam brings out a set of incense papers for worshipping this deity in the hope of getting good karma. There is a small paper effigy to represent the vile person (your “enemy”). And then there is the Noble Man (Samaritan) or Helpful Mentor. There is also a symbolic Green Horse to lead the Noble Man on the right path to help those in need.
In temples in Hong Kong, devotees will squat by the roadside and hit the paper effigy of the vile person with a shoe in front of the Tiger deity. If they are too embarrassed to do this in public, they will pay someone to do it on their behalf. The whacking of the effigy is symbolic of getting rid of your “enemies” who could be the backstabbers.
“We don’t encourage such practice of symbolically hitting the backstabbers,” says Lam. He questions the motive of “enemies” whacking each other as it does no one any good.
Wong observes: “On the second day of Chinese New Year, I saw young temple helpers in their 30s and 40s helping devotees to worship the Tiger Deity in a temple in Penang.
“Actually, young people should abstain from helping other devotees in the worship of this deity as they may be courting danger.
“Usually older temple workers (who do not look forward to job promotions) would perform this ritual.”
Wong also does not condone the act of symbolically “punishing” vile people.
“As the devotees are asked to step on or whack the paper effigy of the bad guy, the temple helper gives it another stomping,” he says.
After this ritual, the paper effigy of the Noble Man, the Green Horse and two palms are stuck on the wall of the temple, the higher the better.
It signifies that you will get help from the Noble Man who will help you climb the ladder of success after disposing of your enemies.
According to a Korean Tourism website (english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=934050), 2010 is the Year of the White Tiger, which returns after 60 years, after its previous appearance in 1950.
The tiger is revered as a “guardian deity and loyal friend of the Korean people”.
It is said that old Chinese fables regard the White Tiger as the God of the West, one of the four deities guarding Heaven.
Korean fortune-tellers consider the appearance of the White Tiger as an auspicious phenomenon. It is believed that children born in 2010 will have good fortune and that many auspicious events will occur in the Year of the White Tiger.