Devotees crowded temples nationwide yesterday as they prayed for prosperity and well-being on the first day of the Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Dragon.
While some lined up as early as on Lunar New Year’s Eve to take part in the “incense races” held at some of the nation’s famous shrines, including the Fengtien Temple (奉天宮) in Chiayi and the Fuhsing Temple (福興宮) in Yunlin’s Siluo Township (西螺), where they competed to offer the first incense stick for good fortune, others opted to visit temples yesterday to mark the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Thousands lined up for more than 1km for the chance to draw a golden egg with cash or pure gold in it at Zihnan Temple (紫南宮), a famous Earth God temple in Nantou County’s Jhushan Township (竹山).
In celebration of the Lunar New Year, the more than 300-year-old temple, which is famous for loaning cash to devotees in need, prepared 1,688 golden eggs and thousands of dragon souvenir coins to distribute to worshipers.
The cash in the golden eggs ranged from less than NT$100 (US$3.40) to NT$6,000; a few special prizes made of pure gold were also included.
The first in line yesterday — a woman surnamed Cheng (鄭) from Greater Taichung’s Dajia District (大甲), accompanied by her husband and their two sons, said they arrived at the temple at 4:30pm on Sunday, so they were lucky enough to beat other worshipers in offering the first incense stick for the third time in four years. Cheng also received NT$800 in her golden egg.
The real lucky winner was a man surnamed Lee (李) from Taoyuan County’s Lujhu Township (蘆竹), a first-time participant, who won a pure gold yuanbao (元寶, a gold ingot) twice — once in the first draw on Lunar New Year’s Eve and the second time yesterday morning.
“We got in line at 7:30 the night before, slept on the side of the road during the night, and even had to find shelter from the rain in the porch of the nearby houses,” Lee’s wife said with a big smile, “but it was all worth it!”
Other devotees waited in lines to borrow money from the Earth God to improve their business prospects in the coming year, or to repay the temple after their businesses turned a profit with the money lent by the Earth God the year before.
The money lent to worshipers ranged up to NT$600 depending on the results of the “moon blocks” (crescent-shaped red tablets that are said to express the will of the gods) that they cast.
“Money lent to worshipers by the temple last year was about NT$300 million, and it was borrowed by about 550,000 people,” said the temple’s management committee commissioner, Chuang Chiu-an (莊秋安). “We estimated that the number of borrowers this year would increase by 15 percent.”