Taiwan's annual Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage begins with over 50,000 people

Goddess Matsu and her followers are making an annual pilgrimage through 4 counties traveling over 400 km

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Mazu pilgrimage departs from Baishatun Gongtian Temple

Mazu pilgrimage departs from Baishatun Gongtian Temple (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The annual pilgrimage of the goddess Matsu and her followers kicked off early Monday morning, April 8, in Miaoli County, attracting over 50,000 pilgrims at the start of this year's procession.

The procession from Baishatun Gongtian Temple (白沙屯拱天宮) in Miaoli’s Tongyu Township (通霄鎮) began at 1:20 a.m. and will travel south for the next 10 days. It will make stops at over 60 temples along the route, in four different counties.

The annual pilgrimage is one of the the largest folk religious traditions in Taiwan, practiced for over 200 years. Every year, the Matsu idol is carried in a sedan by followers for over 400 km, from Miaoli, south to Dajia District of Taichung, and then to Chiayi and back.

Along the way, there will be plenty of merry-making, dancing, fireworks, and lines of religious supplicants who seek Matsu’s blessings for a safe and prosperous year. Supplicants receive the blessing by kneeling on the path before the sedan, and allowing the goddess to pass over them.

Footage from the first day of the procession, shared by the Baishatun Gongtian Temple, can be viewed below.

The religious tradition is classified as an intangible cultural heritage asset by the government.

This year, as the old religious tradition meets new technologies, the pilgrimage organizers have introduced a special smartphone app for people to keep track of the Matsu procession.

By using the app, offered by the Baishatun Gontian Culture Society (拱天宮文化組) users can locate the goddess’ current location, reports Liberty Times. The Baishatun Mazu app (search for "白沙屯媽祖"in the app store) can be used by those seeking Matsu’s blessings, or alternately, by those seeking to avoid stalled traffic on roads blocked by the religious procession.

The Matsu idol (Central News Agency)