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Mazu worship binds Taiwanese people

As an island and an oceanic country, Taiwan has long loved and revered the sea. Since its earlier days as a fishing-based economy, the people in this nation have honored the Chinese sea goddess Mazu (媽祖), also spelled Matsu, as its patron deity. The Mazu religion serves as the glue the bind the people of various ethnicities in Taiwan and as the base of Taiwan's rich and evolving culture.

“Taiwan is one of the world's biggest centers of Mazu belief. Mazu worship has long been the religious belief generating the highest amount of energy in Taiwanese society, it presides over the biggest group of believers, the richest resources and largest number of temples,” said Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), president of the Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮) also known as the Chen Nan Palace (鎮瀾宮), the heart of Mazu worship in Taiwan.

“The believers always commissioned the best craftsman to build temples in Mazu's honor, thereby erecting one quintessential Taiwanese architecture another another,” he went on, “To the Taiwanese people, Mazu worship is not superstition but a deeply ingrained belief. Taiwanese people love Mazu regardless of their ethnicity and age. You can say that the development of Mazu culture is the miniature of Taiwan's history.”

Built in 1770, Jenn Lann Temple is known as one of the most important centers of Mazu culture in Taiwan for its status as the organizer and starting point of the 330-kilometer Mazu procession in the third lunar month that attracts over a million pilgrims island-wide. The trademark event, which is believed to be as old as the temple itself, has long been one of the biggest events in the Taiwan calendar.

Thanks to the assistance of the government, the procession has gained international followings in recent years. The Discovery Channel ranked by the million-member strong match one of the three religious festivals in the world, Yen explained. The celebrations also help push Mazu culture beyond the confines of religion and establish it as the core of Taiwan's national psyche.

This year, Jenn Lann Temple will hold the procession from April 17 to April 25. The organizers have expanded the celebrations to a nine-day trip throughout southern Taiwan that will pass by over 80 temples in over 20 townships of the four sea-bordering counties of Taichung (臺中縣), Changhua (彰化縣), Yunlin (雲林縣) and Chiayi (嘉義縣). The trip typically begins at midnight. The pilgrimage reaches the Mazu Temple in Changhua City (彰化市) on the first night and then moves to Fuhsing Temple (福興宮) in Hsiluo (西螺), Yunlin, on the next day.

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 Mazu worship binds Taiwanese people 
Every year, worshipers carry the statue of Mazu out of Jenn Lann Temple and parade it throughout southern Taiwan. (Courtesy of Jenn Lann Temple, Cultural Bureau, Taichung County)

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