Tue, Dec 05, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan temples 3.0

The younger generation is learning to take over the annual procession duties at Banciao’s Ling An Temple, keeping traditions alive through new methods and events

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Half of Ling An Temple’s bajiang troupe sit on plastic stools, waiting for Sunday’s procession to start.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

It was a historic moment as several men and women fumbled with their swords, maces and ancient torture devices outside Banciao’s Ling An Temple (靈安宮). These first timers awkwardly moved in two concentric circles, trying to replicate the bajiang (八將, or “eight armed guards”) steps they just learned from the temple’s unique religious troupe.

Saturday was the first time that the 37-year-old temple, located in New Taipei City’s Banciao District (板橋), offered a bajiang lesson to the public. A gray-haired Hung Teng-hsing (洪登興), whose late father founded the temple, watches amusedly. When asked if this group was fit to take over as the temple’s fourth generation bajiang troupe, he laughed: “Yes, you all pass.”

Video by Sofia Kuan

He was only joking, as the third generation would be embarking on their first religious procession as a complete group for the birthday of patron deity Qingshanwang (青山王, or “Green Mountain King”) the next day.

The temple is experiencing many changes as Hung passes on the torch to the younger generation, who are using new methods to promote temple culture.

While two other temples in Taipei also worship Qingshanwang, Ling An Temple boasts the only bajiang troupe in Taiwan, where its members experience jiangjia (降駕), or becoming possessed by the deity.

FAMILY AFFAIR

Hung Teng-hsing’s niece, Hung Yi-hsuan (洪藝瑄), has mostly taken over organizational duties for the annual procession, noting that although she grew up in the temple, she only became involved three years ago when she turned 23.

“Before our 35th anniversary, everything was done by my uncle and the older generation,” Hung Yi-hsuan says. “That year, he thought that he should get us involved, and I ended up being in charge because of my interest in temple culture. We’re still slowly learning the ropes as they support us from behind.”

Hung Yi-hsuan says other family members have also joined, as her sister documents the procession with a GoPro. Her nephew is not only a bajiang troupe member, but has also created a series of temple promotional products.

“It’s a family affair. We are all deeply involved with the worship of [Qingshanwang],” she says. “But from a religious standpoint, it’s also spiritual sustenance as well. It’s just a part of our daily life.”

Hung says the first change she made was to set up a Facebook fan page for the temple, sharing photos, videos and information.

This year, in conjunction with Gods School (廟會小學堂), which puts on educational activities with various temples across Taiwan, Ling An Temple held its first seminar, where temple personnel and former bajiang troupe members shared their experiences. Several videos were screened for the first time.

The bajiang lesson was part of the event. There are no taboos in letting the public try the steps, but precautions were still taken as participants had to cleanse their hands with incense smoke, while “fake” weapons were provided to women as they are not allowed to touch the devices used during the procession.

“Our main goal is to propagate [Qingshanwang’s] divine power and preserve the bajiang tradition,” Hung says.

COMBATING STEREOTYPES

Tseng Huan-hsun (曾煥勛) is one of the new bajiang members. An interior designer, Tseng had little temple experience growing up until his friend recruited him three years ago.

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