Friday, June 08, 2007

The Matsu Temple in Dajia

It's hard to believe, but there was a sunlit world here not barely a week ago. To help you all remember the World Without Rain, here are some pics from the Saturday trip of Jason, Andrew, his wife Joyce, and myself to Dajia to visit the famous Matsu Temple there, one of the island's most important temples.

The temple is surrounded by people selling ghost money and sweets, snacks, and fruit, for temple offerings. Here a vendor runs out into the street hoping to get a new arrival to buy.

Someday my wife and I are going to launch a fashion magazine called Don't!

Andrew and Joyce enjoy a moment in the temple courtyard. The ghost money furnace to the right has been closed since a devotee of Matsu leapt inside it in an attempt to get closer to the goddess.

The haunting smoky atmosphere of a Chinese temple: classic.

Offerings crowd a table.

One of the things I enjoy about Chinese temples is that all its activities are intermingled -- people worship, things are bought and sold, children play, tourists photograph, and it all happens at the same time amid smoke and cacophony.

Temples in Taiwan are often broadly divided into two styles by the level of ornamentation -- large,austere "northern palace" style, and intricately ornate "southern palace" style. One of the best examples of the latter is the exquisite old temple in Sanhsia outside of Taipei.

More offerings.

A large temple like this has several burners.

Still Life with Fruit.

This little altar and accompanying wooden plaques commemorate the aboriginal workers who built the temple, according to Andrew.

Another view of the interior.

Each tiny light represents an offering that endows a prayer in the temple for the person mentioned in the offering.

Ghost Money goes off to be recycled.

Visitors take a rest.

One of the many murals and dioramas that adorn the temple.

Divisions and rivalries between the major temples of the island are common. This artifact, unearthed on the temple grounds in an archaeological dig, reads Tien Hou Temple, the same name as the rival temple in Lukang to the south, which claims to have the original Matsu image brought over to Taiwan from Meizhou. The two temples are important centers of Matsu worship in Taiwan. Since the recovery of this artifact, the temple has not supported archaeological work on its grounds, Andrew said. The Matsu cult is extremely important in Taiwan:

The earliest Mazu temple in Taiwan is the Heavenly Consort Taoist Hall in Makung on the Penghu Islands. During the Qing dynasty, the rising tide of belief in Mazu among the public eventually resulted in the cult receiving official support. Mazu temples appeared all over Taiwan. For these geographical and historical reasons, the cult of Mazu in Taiwan has attracted an enormous following. The number of people making at least occasional offerings to Mazu has been estimated to equal about two-thirds of the population, and more than 500 Mazu temples are scattered throughout the island.

The oldest Matsu temple in Taiwan is in the Penghu. The AmCham article above notes:

Daily ritual worship in a Mazu temple, with the exception of the pilgrimage season, is no different from that of other folk-religion temples. One averts the wrath of powerful beings, or gains their favors, through elaborate rituals, where one makes offerings of food, sacrifices, spirit money, and other objects. One worships Mazu because she is regarded as more ling than other gods and as having had a good record of granting adherents' wishes. Indeed, one's frame of mind or what one really believes is less important than the correct observance of the rites when beseeching Mazu.

The month of March on the lunar calendar is the height of Mazu mania. On March 23 (which usually falls within the month of April on the Western calendar), Mazu's birthday is celebrated with special events in all the Mazu temples. Easily among the most famous of these ceremonies was the tradition of the escorting the Mazu icon from the Jenlan Temple in Dajia in Taichung County to "visit her ancestors" in what was regarded as the "mother temple" in Beigang in Yunlin County and to "obtain the flame" from the incense burner there. That journey, a distance of some 300 kilometers, is known as jinxiang (carrying the incense) and has been carried out since the time of the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). But in 1987, a dispute broke out between the two temples over the ranking of their respective deities, and the destination was changed from Beigang to another temple nearby, the Fengtien Temple in Singang.

Marching in the Dajia Mazu's procession is believed to be a way of receiving the goddess’s blessing, and every year tens of thousands of people join the trek, with the line stretching for miles. The marchers, showing their reverence for nature and the deity, walk day and night, stopping for only five hours of sleep a night. Of course, each adherent will have a different reasons and motivations for joining the procession. According to many believers, one cannot enjoy the full protection of Mazu until one has personally completed the eight-day jinxiang journey.

Images used in Matsu processions of the past.

Outside the temple a vendor sells ghost money for burning.

A mural or bas-relief done in wood by a famous local artist. The central figures are two aborigines begging Matsu to accept them as worshipers, thus acquiring the values of the incoming Chinese civilization that Matsu represents in this context, explained Andrew.

Begging for alms.

A vendor watches for customers.

The temple guarded by a lion.

Tourists and locals enjoy a snack outside a local market.

The crowded street in front of the temple.

Colorful lanterns line every street near the temple.

This arch commemorates a local woman whose husband died when she was 12. She remained in a state of widowhood until she died 74 years later.

Jason and Joyce in front of the stelae which explain what the arch is for.

A market near the temple.

I respect boob kooks, but I'm a leg man myself.

Vendors poised to pounce on newly arrived visitors.


4 comments:

the foreigner said...

A woman jumped into the ghost money furnace?

This is probably a stupid question, but...was she badly hurt?

Michael Turton said...

A man, and the experience was fatal.

cfimages said...

Nice post, I learned a few new things about Mazu, which is always good.

Ryan said...

I would subscribe to Don't in a Hualien second!

Ryan