Huge crowds join annual religious procession on first day of Mazu pilgrimage.

After last year’s postponement and reduced numbers due to fear of a novel coronavirus epidemic, the first day of this year’s annual Dajia Mazu pilgrimage saw an estimated crowd of more than 100,000 people packed into the streets of Changhua County.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇), and Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Yuan Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) went to Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung City Friday afternoon to participate in a ceremony to invite the sea goddess out of the shrine for the 8-night, 9-day tour.

Dajia Jenn Lann Temple ceremony
Dajia Jenn Lann Temple. Picture: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The procession, carrying the more than 250-year-old statue of Mazu in a sedan chair, set off at 11:50 pm Friday, April 9 for the 340 kilometer round-trip journey through neighboring Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi counties.

As the annual procession has gained more international attention in recent years, with Discovery Channel describing it as one of the three largest religious events in the world, and UNESCO including Mazu beliefs and customs on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

While believers wore medical masks, and were not allowed to kneel under the sedan chair as is customary, social distancing precautions were thrown to the wind as people thronged around the sedan, making it difficult for carriers to proceed.

People took turns at being porters for the goddess, including prominent local politicians, and company CEOs vying for a chance to help carry the sedan for a short distance.

Many commenters in traditional and social media felt that the great numbers, and enthusiasm of the crowd was the result of pent up boredom and frustration with epidemic restrictions. People are seeking peace of mind and praying for safety, a former legislator told United Daily News.

Picture from Facebook via China Times.
Ma Ying-jeou and Lu Shiow-yen join Mazu Pilgrimage
Former President Ma Ying-jeou (center back), and Mayor of Taichung City Lu Shiow-yen among sedan chair bearers. Picture: Ma Ying-jeou Facebook.

The procession is expected to return to Dajia Jenn Lann Temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) on April 18.

A separate Mazu Pilgrimage sets off tonight

The second largest Mazu pilgrimage in Taiwan will set off from Baishatun Gongtian Temple in Miaoli at 11:40 pm tonight, Sunday April 11. 70,000 people have signed up to make the pilgrimage to Chaotian Temple in Beigang, Yunlin County.

Crowds at Gong Tian Temple in Baishatun, Miaoli County. Picture: Gong Tian Temple Facebook page.
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