ALOR SETAR - Desperate knocks from inside a boiling hot "human steam" cover was the first sign that something bad had happened to medium Lim Ba.
He had been inside the covered wok for about 30 minutes with a fire underneath when devotees heard the knocks.
They quickly removed the cover to discover him unconscious in the Monday night incident.
Lim, 68, who was performing a "human steaming" stunt during a Nine Emperor God prayer session at a Chinese temple in Kuala Sanglang, was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel.
Kubang Pasu district police chief Supt Mohd Ismail Ibrahim said the cause of death was a heart attack, with major second-degree burns.
Lim's youngest son, Kang Huai, 32, said his father began performing the steaming act around 10pm, and they had heard knocking noises from inside the steam cover.
Compared with the regular sounds which let those outside know when to remove the cover, these were desperate and irregular.
"By the time the ambulance arrived, my father had stopped breathing. He underwent a heart bypass last year due to on-and-off breathing difficulties," he said, adding that his father was also on medication for hypertension.
Lim had been performing the human-steaming stunt for more than 10 years, despite objections from his family. He recently performed it at a Nine Emperor Gods celebration in Ayer Tawar, Perak.
During the stunt, Kang Huai said food such as rice, sweet corn and vegetarian buns would be put inside the wok to be steamed as well.
"My mother Ch'ng Siew Hong, my sisters and I are very sad. Our cheerful father has left us forever," he said.
Lim and his family lived in Kerpan where he was popularly known as "Black Dog".
The temple where he had performed the stunt on Monday is only a 10-minute walk from their house.
Lim's daughter Wei Ling, 37, said her father had complained of the hot weather on the way to his earlier stunt in Ayer Tawar.
"He lost his appetite, he ate only sweet potato and green bean biscuits that day. But he was his normal self and took pictures with his devotees," said Wei Ling.
His record, she said, had been 75 minutes inside the steam cover.
When contacted in China, Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia (FTAM) president Tan Hoe Chioew said such rituals were not really part of mainstream Taoist rites and was more of a fa shu (theurgy or magic) performance.
"This 'steaming man' ritual is rarely performed, and I dare not comment on what preparations are needed before you perform this," Tan said.