Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the 280km procession that will pass through four counties -- Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi -- and visit around 80 temples. Matsu is the goddess of the sea and one of Taiwan's most venerated deities.
At a press conference yesterday in Taipei's Red Playhouse, Taichung County Commissioner Huang Chung-sheng (
PHOTO: CHEN TSE-MING, TAIPEI TIMES
"There will be an increased number of shows from local and international performers. This will make the event even more exciting and appealing to young people and tourists," Huang said.
From tomorrow in Dajia at the Yu Jan Shin Culture Center there will be an exhibition of Matsu statues and garments, followed by traditional activities at locations in Taichung County such as dragon, lion and folk dances, martial arts exhibitions and acrobatics.
The pilgrimage is slated to begin at 11:05pm on March 25, departing from Zhenlan Temple in Dajia and led by a messenger wearing one sandal (to represent the fact he is oblivious to his own comfort) and holding an umbrella from which a pig's foot dangles.
He will be followed by a spectacular procession of flag and incense bearers, bands, troupes dressed in ancient army costumes, goddess puppets and traditional musicians.
Typically, followers seek a blessing from the goddess by kneeling before the Matsu palanquin and letting it pass over them, while firecrackers are let off.
Taking as its theme this year the phrase "Matsu is everywhere," tradition has been updated by introducing three mascots representing the goddess and her two celestial followers: Qian Li Yan (who can see for 1,000 miles) and Shun Feng Er (who hears everything carried on the wind).
These cartoon figures were unveiled at the press conference yesterday and can be downloaded on GPRS-enabled phones by sending the message "MA" to the number 55818.
Outside the Red Playhouse yesterday, the Taipei Times met up with independent legislator Yen Chin-piao (
President Chen Shui-bian (
But Yen was clearly enjoying the spotlight as one of the principal organizers of the festival and said the event would continue to grow in importance.
"Most Taiwanese grow up praying to Matsu so there will always be interest in her. This is the biggest and most significant religious event in the country and is an expression of our culture," Yen said.
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