Matsu, the goddess of the sea, started her annual tour of Taiwan last Friday, on what will be a nine-day, eight-night religious pilgrimage to temples around the nation.
During her religious foray into wider Taiwan which started at the prestigious Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung, a statue of the goddess was put into a sedan chair and set off southbound to Xingang Fengtian temple in Chaiyi over a route estimated to be 340 kilometers in all, during which she will pass through four counties.
The festivities associated with the Daija Matsu Pilgrimage are the largest religious parades in Taiwan with five major Matsu figures recognized by Taiwan’s Bureau of Cultural Heritage.
Matsu herself – the real person – originated in Fujian, China, and after her spirit was deified as the goddess of the sea, Chinese migrants worshipping her arrived in Taiwan throughout the 18th century.
As a result, Matsu has become associated with safeguarding the Taiwan Strait – a “Cross-Strait Matsu” of sorts.
The pilgrims themselves along the route can be seen kneeling down, or lowering their bodies when Matsu’s sedan chair passes by, and, believing it will bring them luck, a ritual of crawling underneath the chair.
This year though, this was canceled to comply with social distancing rules.
A parade welcoming all religions – and nations
An amulet with “Peace for everyone” (合境平安) is often seen at the parade and is popular with all ages.
Indeed in a manner differing from other pious celebrations, the annual pilgrimage welcomes believers of any and all different religions to participate.
As such due to the limited COVID cases in Taiwan over the course of the pandemic the crowd this year is expected to be larger than the year before.
Plus, by inviting a number of foreign ambassadors and representatives from many countries worldwide, and live-streaming in 11 languages, the national government is clearly making efforts to take the Matsu festivities to an international audience.
With hundreds and thousands of people following the festivities each day along the route Matsu us taking, the Dajia Matsu will return on April 18, to her home in Taichung’s Dajia Jenn Lann temple.
See her if you can.
All images supplied by the author