Plague-expelling religious festival to be held on schedule

10/23/2021 10:14 AM
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The King Boat to appear in the 2021 festival. (Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple)
The King Boat to appear in the 2021 festival. (Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple)

Taipei, Oct. 23 (CNA) The Wangye Worshipping Ceremony (迎王平安祭典) in Pingtung County will still take place from Oct. 24 to 31 but on a smaller scale than originally planned as precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

The triennial religious festival, which is held to prevent the spread of plagues, normally attracts tens of thousands of participants every time it is held, making it one of the biggest religious rituals in the southern part of Taiwan.

This year, however, the festival's procession will only have 98 groups, compared to about 200 groups from around Taiwan at the 2018 festival.

The number of total participants will also be scaled down to about 5,000 from 20,000 in 2018, according to Democratic Progressive Party at-large Legislator Chou Chun-mi (周春米), who is from Pingtung County.

Wang Ye (王爺) worship is particularly prevalent in southern Taiwan. Wang Ye are divine emissaries who tour the world of the living, expelling disease and evil from those who worship them.

Influenced by traditions brought from China's Fujian and Guangdong provinces, Wang Ye worship was widely adopted in a time when epidemics were frequent and medical knowledge was lacking in Taiwan.

The 300-year-old ceremony in the port town of Donggang in Pingtung County is one of the biggest Wang Ye festivals in Taiwan.

Held by Donglong Temple (東隆宮), the famous religious festival lasts for eight days, and culminates when a giant replica boat, called the King Boat (王船), is set on fire on a beach, signifying the sendoff of the deity.

The custom of boat burning as a way to expel plagues and bad luck dates back 1,000 years. Some scholars think it may have been inspired by the discovery that fire is effective at destroying pathogens, according to the Tourism Bureau.

Each King Boat is also a work of art, with detailed paintings of dragons, elephants and sages decorating its hull, which costs as much as a Lamborghini sports car, the Bureau said.

Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple
Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple
Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple
Photo courtesy of Donglong Temple

In 2010, the ceremony was listed as an intangible cultural asset by the Ministry of Culture under the Important Folklore category.

Despite its smaller scale this year, the festival is still expected to attract a large crowd, as some believe that participation can stave off bad luck and bring blessings.

Traffic controls will be in place and visitors are advised to plan their trips in advance. Wearing a mask will be required at all times.

(By Ken Wang)

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