Fri, Apr 11, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Proving your faith at Taipei's Paoan Temple

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Paoan Temple has brought popular religion into the community with its annual cultural festival.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PAOAN TEMPLE

Just what makes a religious zealot? In the Cumberlands of the US, some Pentecostal sects believe that "snake handling" is a test of faith: If you're bitten and survive, you must be pure at heart. If you don't, so be it.

In Taiwan, zealous behavior comes in the form of people who run headlong into swords, scamper across burning coals and hang heavy objects from their private parts. It has little to do with being pure at heart, though; practitioners of Taiwan's unique brand of Buddha-Tao-Confucianism have traditionally been more interested in their crop yield.

Attending a Sunday Pentecostal service is no guarantee that you'll see snakes and you may not even be welcome to bear witness, but zealots in Taiwan are good enough to schedule their activities by the lunar calendar so we can all come and watch. Among the most famous of places to witness some of this is Taipei's Talungtung Paoan Temple (大龍峒保安宮). The temple hosts a full roster of religious and cultural events each year as part of the months-long folk arts festival (民俗藝術節).

Activities aren't limited to religious rites, and include traditional music performances, a drawing contest, fire walking, a spiritual health diagnosis seminar and any number of events with people in painted faces and day-glo satin costumes. A new event this year is a fireworks battle -- akin to Yenshui's famous annual fight -- that's scheduled for Tuesday from 7pm to 8pm in front of the temple.

The hullabaloo is all in devotion to the Emperor Paoshen, who wasn't an emperor at all, but a skilled medical practitioner born in 979 AD in Fujien Province. When he died, folks thought enough of him to start referring to him as "Emperor" and build a temple in his honor. When their descendants moved to Taiwan hundreds of years later, they brought their deity with them and in 1755 built a makeshift temple to house him. The Paoan Temple you see today was built starting in 1805 and finished in 1830. Emperor Paosheng is the temple's main deity, but Confucius, Kuankung, Hsientien, Shennung (the god of agricultural), and Futeh (the land god) are also worshipped for good measure.

The temple itself is one of the best reasons to visit the festival. The centuries-old structure is one of Taipei's most prominent cultural landmarks and can inspire a slack jaw in anyone who sees it. A mind-numbing amount of detail is carved into every surface, including four stone dragon pillars carved in 1918.

The Talungtung Paoan Temple is located in Taipei at 61 Hami St. (北市大同區哈密街61號) and can be reached by taking buses 2, 41, 246, 288 and 669 or by riding the MRT to Yuanshan station and walking west for 10 minutes. A Chinese-language schedule of the festival's activities from now through July can be found on the Web at http://www.paoan.org.tw/art/daylist.htm.

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