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Chinese mythology depicts the dragon as a long, serpent-like creature with powerful talons. Often linked with auspicious power, it is the natural choice for the symbol of fortune.
23 February 2012
The temple called me up to photograph a triennial event, the light-up of the fire dragon. The life and death of the dragon happened on that very night of February, as it danced its greatest first and last — its only dance.
Amidst the praying devotees at the temple, preparation for the dragon’s dance were underway. The straw dragon was stabbed with bundles of lit incense in almost every inch of its body. From my understanding of this ritual, it is supposed to bring the fortune of the dragon to the people. The troupe members had to ensure that every joss stick was burning before the dragon’s dance could commence.
The fumes from the incense, thick and unforgiving, caused distress to the eyes. Hot ash from the hanging coiled incense collapsed unpredictably, aging the young considerably when it disintegrated on crops of luscious black hair. Still, people young and old, braved the circumstances to witness the event.
The vital spots of the dragon had to be coaxed with red ink before the dragon could come to life. The symbolic areas of the dragon were marked and soon enough, the dragon was ready for its dance. A symbolic dance of good fortune, one that happened a night every three years.
And dance it did. Amid the rowdy clatter of cymbals and percussions, it strutted on the street, followed by a sizable group of devotees. It raged and bellowed tongues of flames. It twirled and spun and twisted, and chased pearl balls made of incense, a testimony of its fierce insistence of having an amazing dance. Residents of Sims Drive followed the procession, in hope that fortune would be showered upon them. Vehicles stopped and patiently allowed the spectacle to unfold, armed with the knowledge of the significance of the event. Children and adults alike pointed, mouths slightly agape.
The dance was intense. Each twirl the dragon made, it spat hot ash from the incense. And it was brief, lasting all of thirty minutes before the dragon surrendered, incense almost burning out completely. Amidst celebratory cries of ‘olé’, its tired body was escorted to the roadside, where it rested whilst the troupe members clamored for pictures, mementos of the last dragon they would be seeing in three years. Thereafter, the dragon was guided where it would be cremated and be reborn again. In three years.