Temple day in Tainan

On the weekend (2004-03-02) I went back to Ava’s home town to go and see something that her parents thought I should really go and see.

Ava goes to University on the weekends, but she thought it might be nice if I take her parents up on the offer and go down anyway to see this quite famous thing go.

So on Saturday morning I managed to book a seat on a very crowded train and take the 4 hour journey down South, followed by a bus ride that took another hour or so.

One funny thing is that often the food that Ava’s mom cooks for us I really can’t stomach. They eat every part of the chicken imaginable. I don’t fancy chicken neck, but they seem to think it’s great. But last time her mother found out that I don’t mind pizza too much. So within 10 minutes of arriving at their home, she had ordered a pizza from Dominoes.

Well that was enough to keep me stuffed well into the evening. So after I had finished we set off. Her dad and I.

What I was greeted by was something beyond what I could ever have imagined…Here’s a little background.

Every three years all the temples in an area, in this case a whole town, come together to hold a kind of traditional event, which no one so far has been able to tell me why. They all come together and for three day they carry their little gods in their carrying boxes and go and visit all of the temples in that town.

All in all their are 39 temples in their home towns vicinity, I never imagined their were so many.

Every group from every temple has some people at the front banging on their “gongs.” They are also followed by all the people who usually take care of matters at that temple and some people to push or carry around the little cart that the god from their temple rides in.

As they approach a temple the real stuff starts. It’s started off by a string of firecrackers. No, not those little ones you had as a kid, but ones that are about 10 times that size, which apparently scare off evil spirits and the like.

Along with these groups they often have groups of people who do special performances, which are traditional dances of sorts. There were some guys on stilts who did some fighting with swords at the entrance to the temple. There were some women who did another kind of dance. There were another group of men who did a Kung Fu display. On another note the group of men doing KungFu always do it in groups of 36, 72, or 108, but no one has told me the significance of this.

Back to the temple approach. When those guys come to the front of the temple they kind of run at the temple as though the god is trying to get into their temple. This is preceded by a loud banging on a very large drum, which gives a cool effect with the atmosphere.

As that god tries to enter the temple, it is confronted by someone from that temple who looks like they are in a kind of trance and being controlled by the god of that temple. When they approach, the temple protector comes in closer and shouts, at which the approaching god moves back. Once the approaching god moves back, the temple protector takes a piece of wood, covered in nails and whacks himself on his back, as though it was a terrible back scratcher. He takes three whacks and then the approaching god comes at him again. He shouts again and they move back. He then hits himself three times on the back in rapid succession. They do this ritual three times in total after which the approaching god backs down.

They then do a little prayer to the temple and move on with the procession.

NOTE: The whacking on the back maybe doesn’t sound too bad from what I have said here. But he really hits hard. I saw the blood dripping down his back, which they mopped up with “paper” money, which is paper with a print on it, which is burned to the gods.

That was probably the most freakish part of the whole event.

The next day on the Sunday we went to see the procession of children.

The kids are put up on pedastel, 108 of them, all in a really long train and are pulled along. The kid who sits at the front is the kid whose parents paid the most money and so on and so forth. They head around the town throwing candy at people who put their hands out for it.

I think the amount of preparation that goes into the event must be huge, many roads are blocked off as the procession is long and slow. It’s quite something to see, and when I remember to take my camera next time, 3 years from now, I will share them with you.

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