Blessings come in many forms and mediums.
In Chinese temples, locals usually seek to consult deities or spirits who manifest themselves through a designated person known as a medium. Mediums begin their ritual by offering incense at the altar and subsequently summoning the presence of the spirit. It is never given as to which spirit would appear and when. As in the case when we were filming in Bentong, two mediums summoned both the Chinese and Malay Datuk during the Datuk’s birthday celebration. The Chinese Datuk appeared but accompanied by the land deity, Tu Di Gong instead of the Malay Datuk.
With the arrival of the spirits, the mediums go into trance and assume the personality of the spirit, giving instructions for further rituals and announcing the start of the consultation session. During this period, the locals would make a line to ask the spirit for blessings, cure for physical and ‘unexplainable’ illness, predictions and sometimes guidance in overcoming certain obstacles in life. Such consultations are usually conducted on the 1st or 15th day of the month according the lunar calendar.
In the picture above, a temple guardian, with hundreds of idols in his private home, wears a working shirt with the stamp (presumably by the Datuk) just below his neck. During consultations with the Datuk, the medium will prescribe blessings in the way he deems fit for the individual. Stamps on clothing articles or the body are usually blessings to keep away bad spirits and intentions from the wearer. Some Datuks give out amulets for the wearer to keep with them at all times, mantras written on yellow paper/cloth(see below) to burn and others, words of wisdom from a wise old man.
In the pictures above, a medium writes a string of characters on a yellow piece of cloth. In most cases, the writing is eligible by those who can read Chinese but in some, a mere scribble is enough to imbue the item with magical properties. Some amulets are worn by the wearer in a small silver casing around their neck so it stays with them at all times. As and when the wearer feels like it, he/she may return to the Datuk with the same amulet, requesting for it to ‘recharged’ with powers. Such efforts are usually compensated with an ‘ang pow’ or red packet with a token sum or a small donation to the temple.
With each Datuk being an individual, it’s impossible to generalize the type of blessing/guidance that he would impart to those who seek help. There was a story once where a woman with an abusive husband asked the Datuk to help her with her predicament. The Datuk agreed and helped her solve the problem by making the husband paralyzed through a car accident. Some Datuks only interfere directly as a last results, opting instead for rational and practical advice.
Whatever form the blessings or guidance come in, it is very clear that the Datuk Gong plays a very important part in communities, be it in cities or small rural areas in the outskirts. Most devotees firmly hold the belief that not everything in the world can be explained by our limited understanding of the world nor can every problem be solved by our fellow man.