The Nine Emperor Gods are represented in different ways. In some temples, there is just a single tablet with the characters stating Nine Emperor Gods (九皇大帝). In other temples, they are represented in the form of a statue, representing the first or second Emperor, or in the form of nine statues representing each of the Nine Emperors.
Furthermore, some temples have spirit mediums representing for the Nine Emperor Gods while others do not. There are temples with one spirit medium for the Nine Emperor Gods, as well as one, the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong, which has nine mediums representing each of the Nine Emperor Gods. The rituals and priests involved also vary, with Taoist priests predominantly from the Zheng Yi tradition, while there are some temples using the Quanzhen tradition. In temples with a Buddhist bent, they have their own ritual specialists, and in one of them, they also use Buddhist monks for their rituals.
The key rituals are the receiving and sending-off ceremonies for the Nine Emperor Gods. These take place mainly by the sea, or in earlier times, along rivers and canals. Present-day sites for the receiving and sending off include East Coast Park, Changi Beach, and Punggol Marina. While not all temples receive the gods on the same day or time, all of the temples send off the Nine Emperor Gods on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. Most of the receiving and sending off take place at night, although there are some temples which do this in the day, like Jiu Huang Gong in Arumugam Road.
Another important aspect of the festival is the emphasis on purity. Thus, at each temple, spring-cleaning is done at least two weeks before the festival. Assistants helping out in the festival, especially in the key rituals, have to start their vegan diet early and follow strict rules. This involves abstaining from meat, eggs, milk, and even garlic and onions. Likewise, devotees have to follow these rules during the festival, with some opting to start as early as a month or more before the festival. During the festival, temple helpers and devotees are dressed in white or yellow shirts and pants. They wear white handkerchiefs over their heads and yellow strips of cloth around their waists and wrists. Yellow and white both represent purity, while there are people who believe that the white also signified mourning. In some of the temples, the red lanterns are replaced by yellow lanterns or candles.
The ritual of the festival is the raising of the nine lamps (九天灯), which marks the start of the festival. This is usually done on the day of the receiving of the Nine Emperor Gods. Nine kerosene lamps are raised on long bamboo poles either before or after the receiving of the Gods. In more recent times, some temples have started using wood and steel poles because of the difficulty of finding and obtaining bamboo poles. The lamps are lowered, cleaned and refilled twice each day, once at about 5am before the rising of the sun, and the second time, at about 5-6 o’clock in the afternoon, before the setting of the sun. To mark the end of the festival, these nine lamps are lowered on the tenth day, after the sending off of the Nine Emperor Gods.
Another event is the yew keng (Hokkien for the Chinese term 游境) or procession. While this started out in earlier decades as a tour of the surrounding kampong neighbourhood, the term has now come to mean the visiting of other temples. The exchange of visits by different temples in the Nine Emperor Gods network has created an identity among these temples.
The palanquins of the Nine Emperor Gods are special in that they are fully covered, with the interior kept from view either by doors or curtains. During key rituals, important ritual objects are carried into or out from the palanquins under the cover of flags or shielded by people. It is done as a mark of respect to the Nine Emperor Gods. All the other palanquins are carried by men. A colourful recent development among some temples is the decoration of the palanquins and sedan chairs for the Nine Emperor Gods with neon lights, used in the receiving and sending-off processions, as well as in the yew keng processions. In some temples, they have also introduced the Dou Mu sedan chair, which is the only chair carried by women.
Another interesting feature of the festival would be the dragon ship, called long chuan (龙船), or the ritual ship (法船). These ships are made of paper and are filled with salt, oil, rice, incense paper, joss sticks, and other items before being sent out and burnt at sea during the sending-off ceremony. In most temples, devotees are allowed to write their names or the names of their family members and paste them on the ship, symbolising the sending out and eradication of their bad fortune to the sea.