Da­jia Mazu Pil­grim­age

The an­nual re­li­gious pro­ces­sion of­fers lo­cal and for­eign cam­era- wield­ing tourists an in­sight into Taichung’s unique cul­ture and land­scape

The China Post - - SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT - BY DIM­ITRI BRUYAS Sup­ple­ment Writer

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.

大甲媽祖遶境進香

大甲鎮瀾宮

臺中市大甲區順天路

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.

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