Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Mad about Matsu

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

As far as religious events in Taiwan go, this is definitely the biggy.

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES

Matsu, goddess of the sea, protector of seafarers, and Taiwan's preeminent folk deity, will be going on tour at the end of the third Chinese lunar month, as she does every year. As far as religious events in Taiwan go, this is definitely the biggy, considerably expanded because there are in fact three major Matsus, not just one, each with major festivals devoted to its worship.

"The third month is mad for Matsu" (三月瘋媽祖) is a common phrase, and describes the intense activities that surround the deity at this time. In 1997, the Taichung County Government decided to make the most of this religious and cultural fervor and created the Tachia Matsu International Tourism and Cultural Festival (台中縣大甲媽祖國際觀光文化節), which will commence Thursday.

The high points of this festival season are the massive parades of the Tachia Matsu (大甲媽祖), who is resident at the Tachia Chenlan Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) in Taichung County, the Peikang Matsu (北港媽祖), who is resident at the Chaotien Temple (朝天宮), in Peikang, Yunlin County, and the Peishatun Matsu (白沙屯媽祖), who resides at the Gungtien Temple (拱天宮) in Tunghsiao (通霄), Miaoli County.

To categorize generally, Peishatun has the longest pilgrimage route, the Peikang procession is accepted as being the most exciting and rowdy, but the crown for drawing the biggest crowds goes to the Tachia Matsu parade, which reaches its climax on the 23rd day of the third lunar month (April 28, 2008), which is the date of Matsu's nativity.

The big day is still a long way off, but the Taipei County Government is set for a big buildup, and is clearly eager to make the Matsu festivities both international and contemporary.

Last year, the festivities were integrated with the FUSE Textile Fashion Week (Fuse紡織時尚週), and this year the fashion theme will be continued, albeit with a different slant with the "textiles" to be made by local triangle rush (藺草) weavers, for which the township of Tachia is famous. There will also be the Matsu Cup Wedding Dress Design Competition (媽祖盃文化婚禮新娘造型創意大賽), which is intended to stimulate new ways of incorporating the traditional into the modern.

Environmentalism is also getting a look in. While many pilgrims have resorted to bicycles to complete the eight-day, approximately 300km pilgrimage route, this year cycling will play a larger role in the form of the 2008 Matsu Loves Your Bike (2008媽祖萬人崇BIKE) event, in which an attempt will be made to break the Guiness World Record for the number of cyclist participating in an event.

Traditional martial arts will also be emphasized during the festival, and events such as the Asian Dragon and Lion Dance Open Championships (亞洲龍獅公開賽), the 2008 Matsu Cup Dragon and Lion Dance competition (2008媽祖盃全國龍獅精英賽), will both take place under the umbrella of the Tachia Matsu International Tourism and Cultural Festival, as will the National Chungcheng Cup Shaolin Martial Arts Tournament (97年全國中正盃少林拳道武術錦標賽).

The fact that Matsu is "in" has been given support by the production of the big-budget animated feature film Mazu (海之傳說媽祖), directed by Lin Shih-jen (林世仁), which opened last year. The festival has been quick to capitalize on this, and will be organizing a tour of the film through 21 townships.

The city government has yet to confirm times and venues for these events, and details will be posted at the festival Web site at mazu.taichung.gov.tw. Information about the Tachia Matsu pilgrimage can be found at the Chenlan Temple Web site at www.dajiamazu.org.tw.

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