Sat, May 04, 2019 - Page 14 News List

The 7-Eleven of Taiwan’s temples
台灣宮廟的「加盟」制度

An Eight Generals performance troupe in May 2014 marches in front of the main gate of Tainan’s Nankunshen Daitianfu Temple.
八家將陣頭在南鯤鯓代天府正門前演出。攝於二○一四年五月。

Photo: Noah Buchan, Taipei Times
照片:台北時報記者巴諾亞攝

The gods need to be entertained — especially if they’ve come from overseas. And the Wangye (Royal Lords), the patron deities of Nankunshen Daitianfu, a sprawling temple complex located in Greater Tainan’s rural Beimen District, know how to throw a good party.

Every year the deities host a birthday bash, when hundreds of temples from throughout Taiwan and Asia descend on Nankunshen Daitianfu — their own gods in tow — to pay respect to the Wangye. These temples, of which Hou Hsian-hsun, the temple’s secretary general, says number over 20,000, do this because they have branched off from Nankunshen, in a process known as “dividing incense” (fenxiang).

A wooden sculpture representing a deity on its own possesses no magical powers and so cannot provide worshippers with protection. However, ritually passing it over the main incense burner of an established temple consecrates the deity, which is then enshrined in a new temple, along with ashes from the senior temple’s incense burner. That new temple then becomes a “branch temple” (fenmiao).

The branch temple enters into a subordinate relationship, obliging it to return the newly empowered deity, usually carried at the front of a ceremonial troupe, to the source temple on the deity’s birthday to recharge its power — hence the party.

During this temple festival, hundreds of performance troupes (zhentou) — pole dancing women scantily dressed in bikinis, martial shamans ritually flagellating themselves with weapons — entertain the temple’s main deity and all the guests who have come.

Hou says that worshippers are motivated to establish a branch temple of Nankunshen because it is Taiwan’s oldest Wangye temple, a history that began 353 years ago when a ship sailing from China ran aground during a storm off the coast of Beimen.

Five statues, all avatars of Wangye (folk religion specialists estimate that there are over 100 manifestations of this deity), were retrieved from the wrecked ship and brought to shore. Nankunshen is a rare exception to a general rule that Taiwan’s temples have branched off from temples in China.

Nankunshen isn’t the only temple franchising out as though a 7-Eleven of folk belief. All of Taiwan’s older temples, regardless of their patron deity — Matsu, the Earth God, Baoshengdadi or the Wangye — have branch temples that are expected to send a ceremonial troupe to perform at temple festivals on that particular god’s birthday.

Today, temples large and small, rural and urban have opened their gates to anyone curious enough to show up for a festival, adapting their rituals to changing social and technological trends that appeal to the media, tourists, politicians and government officials, while retaining enough of their traditions to maintain their core believers.

As a result, temples have become wealthy and powerful.

(Noah Buchan, Taipei Times)

神明應受款待酬謝──尤其是來自海外的神明。王爺──台南北門近郊規模龐大的廟宇「南鯤鯓代天府」所供奉的神明──即深知酬神廟會如何辦好辦滿。

王爺每年都辦生日趴,台灣及亞洲各地數百座宮廟所供奉的神像齊聚南鯤鯓代天府,以慶祝王爺誕辰。南鯤鯓代天府總幹事侯賢遜說,這是因為那些廟是透過「分香」從南鯤鯓分支出來的,南鯤鯓分香出來的廟超過兩萬座。

代表神明的木刻雕像本身並無神力,無法保佑信眾。但是到香火鼎盛的宮廟中為這尊神像進行過爐儀式(在主香爐上旋繞),神像就會得到神明靈力。這尊神像連同祖廟香爐中的香灰一起迎回,另建新廟供奉,就成了該祖廟的「分廟」。

分香出來的分廟,是從屬於祖廟,分廟的神像必須在神明的誕辰送回祖廟(通常在進香隊伍前面引領),以維續其靈力──這也就是為什麼有上述的生日趴。

在廟會期間,有數百個陣頭──包括比基尼泳裝鋼管舞女郎、用兵器往自己身上擊打的乩童──以饗該廟主祀神及所有來賓。

侯賢遜表示,南鯤鯓代天府是台灣最古老的王爺廟,因此信徒積極由此建立分廟。南鯤鯓代天府的歷史源自三百五十三年前一艘來自中國、因風暴漂流到北門海岸的船。

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