To see the traditional temple parades in Taipei is an experience I could never forget while traveling in Taiwan. It was the early afternoon on a bright sunny day. It must have been on the 21st of May 2016, it was a Sunday. Taiwan celebrates this as a National Holiday, called ‘Labour Day’.
A few friends and I were shopping around as we made our way out of a shopping mall in Taipei to get drinks from the bubble tea shop next door. As we were all waiting for our order, the sound gongs, pipes, and the beating of huge drums, the parade music got ever louder as everyone around us was overcome by the commotion.
With what then become loud detonations of firecrackers which left huge burnt black marks on the road, was very quickly covering everything in deep grey smoke. Our bubble teas were ready, so we collected them and went off to join the spectating crowds to see what was stopping all the traffic to a complete halt.
Temple Parades always begin and end at a sacred place
The parade, now appearing from out of the smoke, were men and women carrying banners, musicians and performers, all in cultural attire marched in formations while some carried an effigy in a palanquin, it was a photographer’s dream. We witnessed several ornate wheeled buggies and wooden sedan chairs pass by, all equipped with flashing LEDs and loudspeakers.
They made frequent stops to give godly blessings to individual businesses and households. At each halt, they detonate strings of firecrackers and burn joss paper. They also launch fireworks into the sky even though the beauty of the pyrotechnics cannot show much in the daylight sunshine.
These religious practices are a common occurrence all over Taiwan, they typically take place at any time (day or night) on weekends but more so on national holidays and events.
Even if you’ve never set foot in a Taiwanese temple, you are sure to come across folk-religion parades. These traffic-stopping events are a product of modern Taiwanese culture, in addition to the blends of Chinese, Austronesian, Japanese and western influences. Furthermore, these religious parades’ typical temple parade begins and ends at a temple.
As never Taiwan experienced communist oppression. Therefore, visitors have the opportunity to witness these traditional religious practices and ancient customs, unlike in China. As a result, Taiwan is ‘more traditionally Chinese than China’, but at the same time, being ‘much more than Chinese’. They still hold the strong ancient belief that the explosive sound of the firecracker can scare away evil spirits and demons, who might otherwise bring bad luck.
Temple Parades usual have offerings outside many businesses
Symbolic offerings are made to the Triple Gem, giving rise to contemplative gratitude and inspiration.
Typical material offerings involve simple objects. This can be a lit candle or oil lamp, burning incense, flowers, food, fruit, water, or drinks.
The passing performers and assisting parade members would commonly stop at each main traffic light. These are good opportunities for the parade members to let off their firecrackers to ward off the evil spirits and to be gratefully offered drinks from those making the said symbolic offerings.
The eight members (almost always men) represent four ‘infernal’ generals plus four seasonal gods (of spring, summer, fall, and winter). What’s more, they have a vaguely menacing attitude, they swagger along the street whilst carrying their ritual weapons.
The most important thing is to keep a respectful distance from them and don’t cross their protective line.
(First image) The Bajiajaing and (last image) The Zhentous.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might witness the ‘Bajiajaing’. It’s roughly translated as the ‘Eight Generals performance parade’.
The Eight Generals are the spiritual guardians that ward off, nab, and punish evil spirits.
They portray troupes of young people with colorful costumes and makeup to depict specific generals.
The ‘zhentou’ is one of the most eye-catching participants of the Temple Parades. Also, these performance troupes (some professional, many amateurs) wear fabulous attire, walk on stilts and perform acrobatics.
It’s one of the many beautiful cultural perks of living in Taiwan.
🗓️ Updated: April 2016 – Taipei.Expats