If you travel to Taiwan, you will definitely come across Mazu. In Taoism, one of the religions practised in Taiwan, she is the goddess of the sea, and about 400 of the island’s many temples are dedicated to her.
But it is difficult to pick the most beautiful among Taiwan’s temples.
The Lungshan Temple in the Manka district of the capital Taipei is definitely worth a visit. It was originally built by Chinese immigrants in 1738 and dedicated to the Buddhist goddess Guanyin, but now Mazu is worshipped there.
In the west of the island, the little town of Lukang awaits, with its little historical alleys and temple complexes. But be aware that it’s one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations, which comes with commerce, rickshaw rides and handmade lanterns.
So if you are looking for something a bit more secluded, try the Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple, located in the centre of Taiwan. The modern, palace-like building dedicated to Confucius sits at the shore of the Sun Moon Lake, with a breathtaking view.
Deep down in the south of Taiwan, in Kaohsiung, an enormous temple complex is located on the shore of the magnificent Lotus Pond, with the seven-storey Dragon and Tiger Pagodas towering over the water. You can enter the two towers through the mouth of the dragon and leave through the throat of the tiger.
When you visit a temple, you will be surprised how easy it is. They are generally free and open to everyone, and you are welcome to take pictures. According to Taiwanese tourist guide Michelle Chiu, no special clothing is required. Shorts and short sleeves are fine, for both women and men.
However, you should never step on the raised threshold, which brings bad luck. Thresholds are knee-high barriers, which are also said to ward off evil spirits. But this doesn’t mean that the temple is closed – just step over them.
When you enter through the Paifang, the archway at the entrance of the temple area, you have crossed the border between the worldly and the heavenly sphere. Inside, colourful wood and stone carvings, curved roofs and symbolic images await. The colourful sculptures in human shape on the roofs symbolise prosperity, happiness and longevity.
The piercing gazes of dragons will follow your every step. They represent strength, creativity and wisdom, and function as guardians as well as symbols of enlightenment.
Deep inside the temple, incense smoke fills the air and offerings are draped on tables: bunches of flowers, bananas, oranges, rice, packets of biscuits. What is intended for the representatives of the supernatural world ultimately benefits the needy.
Temples are usually filled by the noise made by a pair of little red half-moon shaped wooden tools, called jiaobei. Each piece has a flat and a rounded side and after posing a question to the divinity, devout visitors throw the jiaobei on the floor.
If both pieces land on the flat side, the gods have answered “no”. A round and a flat side are affirmative, and if both pieces land on the rounded side, it means that the question was irrelevant. – Andreas Drouve/dpa
Gallery: Discovering the magic of Taiwan’s temples
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