Taipei (Taiwan News) -- As Taiwan says good-bye to the Year of the Monkey and welcomes the Year of the Fire Rooster, residents celebrated with family meals and prayers at temples. While some residents arrive at temples shortly after midnight to have the first prayers of the new year, most wait until the morning to pack into the crowded religious sites to pray for good fortune throughout the year.
In Taipei, the majority of residents and tourists head to the main temples, while the smaller temples remain quieter with their congregations of locals.
Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺)
Taipei’s oldest and most popular Buddhist temple with residents and tourists alike is also the busiest during the Lunar New Year. Longshan, with its classical Chinese architecture, dates back to 1738 and is dedicated to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy. Many more Buddhist and Taoist deities are housed in the temple. The city designated Longshan as a second-grade historical site in 1985.
On almost any weekend the temple is crowded, but it is even more so during holidays. Holidays such as the Lunar New Year require the city to call on traffic and crowd control, even shutting down Guangzhou St. in front of the temple to motor vehicle traffic.
Ciyou Temple (松山慈祐宮媽祖)
Dedicated to the Taoist goddess Mazu/Matsu (天上聖母), the sea goddess, Ciyou Temple is popular with tourists for its proximity to Raohe Night Market. The temple was constructed along the Keelung River in 1753 and has undergone reconstruction work seven times. According to legend, the temple was founded by a wandering monk who came upon a group of Mazu followers.
Ciyou Temple houses over 100 Taoist and Buddhist deities within its six floors, with the top floor containing a shrine to the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝).
Xingtian Temple (行天宫)
Built using private funds from Master Hsuan Kung, the temple in Zhongshan District and its two branches in Beitou and Sanxia were constructed between 1956 and 1967, according to the temple’s official website. Although it is a newer temple, large crowds visit the temple each day, particularly during holidays such as the Lunar New Year. As it covers 7,000 sqm., the temple doesn’t appear as crowded on the first day of the year.
The main deity of Xingtian Temple is Guan Yu, a general of Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty depicted in "Romance of the Three Kingdoms"—he is worshiped as a protector and subduer of demons. He is joined at the temple with Lu Dongbin, Zhang Dan, Wang Shan and Yue Fei, who altogether are known as the Five Saviors.
Dalongdong Baoan Temple (大龍峒保安宮)
Baoan Temple is the largest temple dedicated to Baosheng Dadi (保生大帝), the Taoist god of medicine supposedly born during the Song Dynasty in Fujian Province, making this the temple at which people pray for health throughout the year. According to its official website, the temple was constructed in 1830, but its history dates back to the mid-1700s when migrants “begged the Baosheng Emperor to share out his spiritual powers to Taiwan.”The dragon column in the main hall also dates back to 1804.
The temple is associated with the development of the Dalongdong community. It was originally funded by four wealthy clans that also set up 44 shops next to the temple. In 2003, the temple was designated with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
Bangka Qingshan Temple
Qingshan is one of the smaller temples in Taipei, though it is still of significance for many residents. Tourists generally find their way to this temple because of its proximity to Longshan Temple. It was built in the mid-1800s in honor of Zhang Gun (張滾), the Three Kingdoms general who served Sun Quan (孫權), who was deified as Qingshan Wang (青山王). He is worshiped for his ability to protect people from disease; he also rewards virtue and punishes evil. Unlike its more popular neighbor, Qingshan Temple did not suffer damage from Allied bombings during World War II.