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May 1, 2017

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A festive Taichung Mazu International Festival

Of all the Mazu-worshiping ceremonies and related religious activities worldwide, none is as boisterous and popular as Central Taiwan's iconic and distinctly Taiwanese procession.

The sound of firecrackers being lit then going off and filling the night sky is incessant. Coral lanterns are hung far and wide and various vendors and devotees crowd the usually traffic-clogged streets. This dayslong pilgrimage is all to welcome Mazu (媽祖), the goddess of the sea, and is a major highlight of the annual Taichung Mazu International Festival (臺中媽祖國際觀光文化節).

A Defining Element of Taiwan's Cultural Heritage

For over a century, Mazu worship — originating in the Song Dynasty — has been a widely observed practice in Taiwan. It is now recognized as a defining element of the island's cultural heritage.

And, in this regard, no Mazu ceremony is as defining as the annual pilgrimage.

"It manifests the intangible cultural heritage of Taiwan in a way that can be seen and appreciated by both residents and foreign visitors," said Shih Chun-Fu (施純福), deputy director-general of Taichung's Cultural Affairs Bureau. "During this time, everyone can express their gratitude to Mazu for her protection over this cherished land in their own way," he added.

Taiwan Biggest Mazu Pilgrimage

Every year, around the time of Mazu's birthday, which falls on the 23rd day of the third month of the lunar calendar, Mazu temples across Taiwan carry their statues of the sea goddess on a sedan chair in a rite known as the Mazu Holy Pilgrimage to let her "patrol" the surrounding villages she oversees and bring blessings to each of the households she passes by.

To this end, the Dajia Mazu (大甲媽祖), from the Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Taichung's Dajia District (大甲區), draws hundreds of thousands of well-wishers every year to participate in the deity's nine-day procession. This is the single most illustrious Mazu Holy Pilgrimage in Taiwan — covering more than 100 temples on its roughly 340-kilometer route across four coastal counties of Central Taiwan: Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi.

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