TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The 2021 Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage Procession got underway without a hitch on Friday (April 9) in the central city of Taichung.
Every year Matsu, the patron goddess of seafarers, sets off on a roundtrip pilgrimage from Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung’s Dajia District to Fengtian Temple, in Chiayi County’s Xingang Township. This is the biggest Matsu pilgrimage in Taiwan in terms of the number of official participating brigades, or processional teams.
This year, a group of diplomats representing 13 countries and nearly 100 foreign guests traveled down to Taichung from Taipei to attend the opening ceremony for the first time in the event's history and enjoy the Matsu merriment. The one-day trip was organized by the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association (TDAA), which plans activities for foreigners living in Taiwan to promote cross-cultural exchanges and highlight the nation’s soft power.
The 13 represented countries included Poland, The Netherlands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, the U.S., Paraguay, Canada, India, and Austria.
On Friday afternoon, the group boarded a bus at Taipei Main Station and made their way down to Taichung. Ahead of joining the bustling procession, they stopped at a banquet-style restaurant for dinner.
During the meal, some diplomats in the group went on stage to share their thoughts on the event. Saint Lucia Ambassador to Taiwan Edwin Laurent stated this was his first time to join the Matsu procession and that he was extremely excited. He said he was grateful to TDAA for making the trip happen.
Aleksandra Byra-Rys, acting deputy director of the Polish Office in Taipei, said it was a beautiful thing to see Taiwan’s many religions and cultures prosper in harmony. She also said this was her first time attending the Matsu event.
After dinner, the group made a brief stop at Jenn Lann Temple where revelers were preparing to begin the nine-day procession, carrying a statue of Matsu all the way. The group later continued down the road to rest at an observation stage and wait for the sedan chair containing Matsu to pass by.
A stream of pilgrims and brightly decorated vehicles blasting high-energy electronic music slowly advanced past the stage, while barrages of firecrackers were intermittently set off in the sea of people. Lion and dragon dance groups also performed in the middle of the crowd.
Adjacent to the stage was a provisional broadcast station to livestream the entire event, translated into 11 languages. In an effort to promote the event abroad, organizers decided to air the ceremony via the 17LIVE streaming platform to countries including Singapore, Japan, the U.S., Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, Canada, the U.K., South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
At 11:05 p.m., the main procession got underway and made its way past the stage soon after. At that point, the energy from the crowd reached its peak. A final barrage of firecrackers and fireworks was set off as the Matsu statue passed the stage and continued her southward trip.
According to a General Association Of Chinese Culture press release, the Dajia Matsu pilgrimage procession is recognized by Discovery Channel as one of the world’s three largest religious activities, along with Christmas Mass in the Vatican and the Hajj. Additionally, UNESCO has included Matsu beliefs and customs on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The pilgrimage stops at nearly 100 temples in 21 townships and districts throughout Taichung City, Changhua County, Yunlin County, and Chiayi County. By the end of the journey, pilgrims will have walked around 300 kilometers.