Annual Mazu procession begins in Taichung
An annual procession to honor Mazu ( ), the Chinese goddess of the sea, kicked off late Friday night at the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple ( ) in the central city of Taichung.
Believers will traverse the neighboring counties of Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi on a 330-kilometer journey that is scheduled to end April 26, when they return to the Taichung temple.
The annual event has been listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the biggest religious festivals in the world, along with the hajj — the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca — and the Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican.
Each year, millions of worshippers flock to join the procession to celebrate the birthday of Mazu, believed to fall on the 23rd day of the third month on the lunar calendar.
Some believers set tables with offerings along the route of the procession, while others supply the pilgrims with food and water along the way.
Devout worshippers prostrate themselves on some parts of the journey, while others scramble to crawl underneath the palanquin carrying a statue of the sea goddess to pray for her blessings.
In recent years, the annual tradition has spread beyond middleaged and elderly people to reach younger believers.
Lin Mao- hsien, an associate professor of Taiwanese languages and literature at National Taichung University, has taken his students on the pilgrimage years.
The annual festival has even attracted students from the other side of the Taiwan Strait, with some 100 Chinese students taking part in recent years.
Lin said his students have learned through the procession that the most beautiful part of Taiwan is its people, as they see believers eager to offer food and accommodation or other forms of assistance to the pilgrims.
Moreover, most of the pilgrims embark on the nine-day journey not for themselves, but for the wellbeing of their families and friends, Lin added.
The beauty of humanity shines through, which is touching, he said.
for nearly 20
Technology now also has a role in the time-honored tradition.
A smartphone app has been developed to allow users to track the procession through a global positioning network set up by Feng Chia University in Taichung.
Chou Tien-ying, a professor of urban planning and spatial information at the Taichung university, said the app has been downloaded over 100,000 times.
Chou said his university has upgraded it this year to allow believers around the world to track the procession.
The Dajia Jenn Lann Temple has also in recent years been organizing one-day pilgrimages for people too busy to embark on the whole trip, with more than 20,000 people signing up last year.