The Baishatun Matsu Pilgrimage, one of the largest annual religious processions in Taiwan, was to set off from Miaoli County’s Baishatun (白沙屯) last night.
The procession of the sea goddess Matsu (媽祖) is being organized by the Gong Tian Temple (拱天宮).
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) visited the temple in the afternoon to dedicate a plaque and take part in a ritual to move the deities from their seats in the temple to prepare them for the procession.
Tsai said she prayed to Matsu to bring relief from the current water shortage.
She was accompanied by central and local government officials including Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) and Miaoli County Commissioner Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌), as well as former minister of culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君).
About 78,000 people have signed up to participate in this year’s procession, which is to travel 400km to Chao Tian Temple (朝天宮) in Yunlin County’s Beigang (北港) and back.
A record 55,000 people participated in last year’s event, the organizers said.
Gong Tian Temple late on Thursday began pre-procession rituals by raising a banner to announce the start of this year’s pilgrimage. Worshipers have since flocked to the temple, bringing offerings of food and praying for a smooth journey.
The banner was to be carried at the front of the procession, which was scheduled to set off at 11:40pm yesterday.
The pilgrimage is officially recognized as the longest in Taiwan and is also known for its unplanned route, which is determined by the way in which Matsu’s palanquin moves or tilts during the procession.
Only the date of arrival at the Yunlin temple and the return date to Miaoli are fixed, having been decided by Matsu during a ritual held before the Lunar New Year.
Otherwise, the procession makes sudden turns and stops that are interpreted as reflecting the deity’s intentions, according to the Ministry of the Interior’s Web site on Taiwan’s religions.
This year, the procession is scheduled to arrive at the Chao Tian Temple on Friday, when a fire would be lit for worshipers to take back to the Gong Tian Temple.
The procession would begin the return journey on the same day to make it back to Miaoli by Monday next week, and a ritual using the fire would be held to “renew the divine spirit.”
In comparison, the 350km Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage from Taichung to Chiayi and back, which started on Friday, follows a list of temples where Matsu stops during the nine-day journey.
If the Baishantun Matsu Pilgrimage takes Provincial Highway No. 1 on its way south, it could meet up with the Dajia Matsu Pilgirmage in Yunlin on Wednesday, the organizers said.
Traffic control measures would be in place in Miaoli for the start of the procession, and the organizers said they have streamlined rituals for this year’s event amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Worshipers are urged to follow health authorities’ disease prevention guidelines, which includes not kneeling under the palanquin to seek the deity’s blessing, the organizers said.
Additional reporting by Tsai Cheng-min
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