Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage
The annual religious procession offers local and foreign camera- wielding tourists an insight into Taichung’s unique culture and landscape
The annual procession to honor the sea goddess Mazu (媽祖) has successfully helped put Taiwan’s local cultures in the spotlight with millions of worshippers participating each year. Opening on April 17 in Taichung, the pilgrimage is an intangible cultural heritage on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list. Mazu is not only worshipped in Taiwan, but also in the southeastern coastal areas of mainland China and other nearby areas in Southeast Asia like Vietnam. The deity’s influence continues to spread to other areas in the world with the migration of people and, today, Mazu temples are found in Japan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and even in Europe and the United States. Experts estimate that there are around 150 million followers of the sea goddess worldwide. But no other Mazu worshipping ceremony in the world is bigger or more popular than the annual procession in Central Taiwan.
Biggest Religious Celebration in Taiwan
The Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage (大甲媽祖遶境進香) unfolds during the third month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, with the exact date being determined by lot-drawing on the Lantern Festival (元宵節). The trip typically begins at 11 p.m. in the Da Jia Jenn Lann Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮), also spelled Jhenlan Temple, gathering as many as 200,000 worshipers gather to see the deity embark on the nine-day-long trip throughout Southern Taiwan that includes passing by 80 temples in 21 townships in the four sea-bordering cities and counties of Taichung (臺中), Changhua (彰化), Yunlin (雲林) and Chiayi (嘉義). Some pilgrims follow the deity’s statue, carried in a palanquin by her followers, through the entire 330-kilometer procession.
“During the pilgrimage procession, some people give generous support without sparing any concern and passion; some people show their piety by following Mazu step-by-step,” Wang Chih-cheng (王志誠), director-general of the Cultural Affairs Bureau under the Taichung City Government (臺中市政府文化局), told The China Post. “Everyone is thankful for Mazu’s protection in their own way, revealing the Taiwanese people’s love and persistence for this land.”
If you also want to get an insight into Taichung’s unique cultures and landscapes, you can also join the celebrations, which are not found anywhere else in Taiwan or catch up with the pilgrims along the way when they reach, for instance, when they arrive at the Nanyao Temple in Changhua (彰化南瑤宮) on the first night and Fuhsing Temple in Hsiluo (西螺福興宮) in Yunlin, on the following day.
On the third and fourth days, the pilgrims will stay at Fengtian Temple in Hsingang (新港奉天宮) and return to Fuhsing Temple on the fifth day. On the sixth day, Mazu will stay at Tianan Temple (奠安宮) and then go to Mazu Temple (彰化天后宮) in Changhua City on the seventh day, Chaoxing Temple in Chin shui (清水朝興宮) on the eighth day before returning to Jenn Lann Temple on April 26.
Located at the heart of Dajia District (大甲), the richly decorated religious temple was built in 1770, or the 35th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆) of the Qing dynasty (清朝). According to traditional Chinese design, Jenn Lann Temple boasts several beautifully decorated beams and columns showcasing the mastery of craftsmen over the last centuries. It is the local merchants and gentry, however, who pooled together money and resources to expand the temple into a shrine for worshiping Mazu.
Asked about the logistics of accommodating the thousands of people who follow the procession, Wang, who is a native of Dajia, explained that altars are set up by local residents to welcome the arrival of Mazu wherever the pilgrims pass by, providing free food and drinks. “A large pilgrimage procession like this not only requires the help of volunteers, but also the support of local people, so that (celebrations) can be held successfully,” he pointed out.
Thanks to the assistance of Taichung City Government, the procession has also gained an international following in recent years, highlighted by The Discovery Channel’s documentary which ranked the million-member strong festival as one of the three best religious festivals in the world, alongside the Hajj — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — and the Hindu rite of bathing in the Ganges River. “The celebrations also help push Mazu culture beyond the confines of religion and establish it as the core of Taiwan’s national psyche,” he stressed.
In addition to the annual Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage, there are many more Mazu-related ceremonies held in the Taichung area all year long, including the Xinshe Mazu Moving Home (新社九庄媽過爐), Nantewn Mazu Returning Parental Home (南屯老二媽回娘家), Wan-He Temple Last Name Play (萬和宮字姓戲), Wuqi Mazu Walking Sedan Chair (梧棲媽祖走大轎). Equally remarkably, they are registered by Taichung City Government as intangible cultural heritage.
A Festival of Traditional Cultures
Without a doubt, the annual Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage is a unique opportunity to (re)discover traditional cultures in Central Taiwan with your friends and family. For the occasion, the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taichung City Government has invited the acclaimed Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Cultural Group (明華園戲劇總團) to perform in Taichung at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 12, and set the stage on April 17 in Dajia, for the kicking off of the pilgrimage.
Also, the Miao Hsuan Dance (妙璇舞蹈團), Starlight Saxophone Band (星光薩克斯風樂團), Dajia Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (大甲愛樂室內樂團), Taiwan Zhong-Yi Hall Folk Arts Squad (忠義堂民俗技藝團), Taokas Drum Club (道卡斯鼓藝坊), Zhongxiao Hall Variety Show Company (忠孝堂綜藝團), the Creative Art Club students from Asia-Pacific Institute of Creativity (亞太創意科技大學創意藝社), Chih-Yung Senior High School’s Martial Art Club (致用高中傳統武藝社) and various Lion and Tiger Dance troupes will perform during the pilgrimage, making the event more lively.
In addition to introducing local performance troupes, the organizers will invite members and friends of the foreign community to participate directly in the pilgrimage, offering detailed information about the celebrations and various religious practices. You can either register to join the long march or watch the live broadcast of the Mazu Pilgrimage in front of Dajia Jenn Lann Temple.
Last but not least, the Cultural Affairs Bureau has set up Mazu Cultural Buses (媽祖文化專車) proposing five routes to help you discover the pilgrimage the easy way. There will be 25 runs during the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) from April 25 to May 24. Some of the bus stations along the way include the Taichung City Dadun Cultural Center (大墩文化中心), the Taichung Municipal City Huludun Cultural Center (葫蘆墩文化中心), the Taichung City Tun District Art Center (屯區藝文中心) and the Taichung City Seaport Art Center (港區藝術中心). There are up to 1,000 slots available and foreigners are more than welcome to join in.
Each cultural bus is assigned a guide who will share cultural stories about Mazu along the way. For the young and the young at heart, there will also be a special DIY activity or performance set up for each route, meaning that you are welcome to join this meaningful journey to discover the beauty of Mazu with your children.
There are many important Mazu ceremonies in Taichung, among which Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage Procession (大甲媽祖遶境進香), Han-Xi Mazu Pilgrimage Procession (旱溪媽祖遶境十八庄), Xinshe Mazu Moving Home (新社九庄媽過爐), Nantewn Mazu Returning Parental Home (南屯老二媽回娘家,) Wan-He Temple Last Name Play (萬和宮字姓戲,) Wuqi Mazu Walking Sedan Chair (梧棲媽祖走大轎) are especially remarkable. They are registered by Taichung City Government as intangible cultural heritage.
Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (
), third right, speaks highly of the Mazu Pilgrimage and warmly invites everyone to join the grand festival at the Leh Chern Temple.
Wang Chih-cheng ( ), director-general of the Cultural Affairs Bureau under the Taichung City Government (
), says that many people show their piety by following Mazu from the beginning to the end of the procession and that it is also a way of showing appreciation to Mazu's protection over the island.
1. Crowds are happily engaged with the performances on stage held at the Hao Tien Temple. 2. TW Pearl ( ), a Taiwanese opera group, poses for a group photo after a fantastic performance brought to the locals in Taichung. 3. The 9966 Jazz Band (9966
) performs at a party at Jiuzhuangma in Xinshe ( ). The band is teamed with several people who are also fond of tennis.