The Power of Religion: Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage of Central Taiwan (I)
How powerful is religion?
For the disciples of history, religion is a moving force that has created significant impacts upon the human race, and continues to do so even today. The power of beliefs can influence individuals in ways that could not be explained by simple rationality.
While Taiwan is not known for being a center of religion (even though one of Taiwan’s religious leaders Master Chen Yen – the founder of Tzu Chi Foundation – has been listed in the 2011 Time 100), there are a number of cultural and religious events that take place in Taiwan that can easily awe the world.
One of these big events in Taiwan’s religious scenes is the pilgrimage of Dajia Jenn Lann Temple’s Matsu (also known as <i>Dajia-ma</i> for short).
For newcomers of Chinese religion, Matsu is the Goddess of the Sea. Her origins can be traced back to the 10th century AD to the historical Matsu <i>Lin Moniang</i>.
As the patron of sailors and fishermen, the worship of Matsu spread from her birthplace in China throughout the Pacific Rim, from Vietnam to Los Angeles. In Taiwan alone, there are over 1,000 temples around the island offering prayers to this popular goddess.
Third Month of Lunar New Year: Matsu Madness
There’s an old saying in Taiwan which describes the third month of the lunar calendar as the month of “Mad over Matsu.” Indeed, with the approach of her birthday (the 23rd of the month), firecrackers are lighted and celebrations are held at the temples to honor her.
In recent years, one of the major activities of the March madness enjoying the spotlight at numerous local news stations is the pilgrimage of <i>Dajia-ma</i>. The (usually) 8-day, 300-kilometer-plus pilgrimage is a test of endurance, walking from Taichung’s Dajia Jenn Lann Temple to Singang Fengtian Temple in Chiayi County (NOTE: the old route used to be between Jenn Lann Temple and Peigang Choutian Temple, but faced a destination change over conflicting interests a few years ago. Again, all three temples are worth visiting).
For tourists who are trying to plan ahead, you may be in for some bad news; the actual date of the pilgrimage is never set, but determined by tossing moon blocks on the day of the Lantern Festival. The goddess expresses her will through this process, setting the date for her to leave the temple on the annual tour.
However, the good thing about the Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage is that the event has now risen to a level of major cultural event, so it’s not hard for people from outside Taichung or Taiwan to get to the “hot spots.” In fact, if you are interested in joining the procession at any point during the pilgrimage, simply visit the website set up by the temple authority to checkup the exact location of the divine sedan (there’s a GPS device planted to provide information on its whereabouts). In my opinion, this is a great way for casual visitors who may not be able to take a long vacation for the event, but still would like to see a sampling of this important cultural event.
(continue to Part 2)
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