Thursday, March 6, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Longshan Temple (Dragon Mountain Temple)

Longshan Temple, or Lungshan (literally translates to Dragon Mountain Temple) is one of the oldest and beautifully renowned temples in Taiwan. The history of the temple; teamed with the local stories of the origins and magical powers of the site of the temple make this one of the most fascinating place of worship to grace the list of must-visits while in the country.
The temple was named after a famous sacred temple, built in the 17th century in the province of Fujian in China (also Dragon Mountain Temple), in honor of the sanctity of the temple worshipped by the pious devotees who later migrate to Taiwan. Most of the locals in the Manka district; where the temple is situated were said to be immigrants from the counties in the Fujian province and they were said to have migrated to make their homes here in the 18th century.

Located in the Wanhua district, and more precisely on Guangzhou street, Longshan temple was originally built in dedication to the Goddess of Mercy, whom, the locals believed was the protector and guardian of the temple. The temple, today, while maintaining her rustic charms from the ancient craftwork on the walls and stones, was not the original build from the year 1738.
Works of renovation and construction can be seen taking place at the temple since its original establishment then, due to the major events which led to its destruction back then.
The first was an Allied Air Raid or the Raid on Taipei during the World War II in the year 1945, where the attacks launched by the American were clearly targeted at the Japanese who were suspected to be hiding firearms in the temple which left the temple in thick smoke and flames, destroying most parts of the temple and the historical artifacts related to the early beginnings of the temple. Another was an earthquake, which also caused major damage to the temple.
In both incidents, the large statue of the Goddess of Mercy, remained unharmed, and perhaps only gathering the debris and dust around it, strengthening the belief in the mythical powers of the Goddess of Mercy, also known as Guanyin.

Another interesting tale is the site of the temple was originally where an amulet of the Goddess of Mercy was found hanging on a tree which casted a glow around it even in the dark that led many to believe that place was indeed sacred. Today the temple is said to attract many religious devotees who flock to the temple on a daily basis to seek for blessings due to the mythical powers exuded within the realms of the temple.

The history of the temple can be clearly traced on the fine works of art and carving on the pillars, roof and the sculptures found around the temple, making the entire place a glowing picture of classical Chinese architecture at a glance. There is no denying the beauty of the carefully crafted arts of masterpiece which stares back from almost every corner of the temple. These unique charms are attributed to the famous architect specially invited from the southern part of the Fujian Province, Mr Wang Yi-Shun, who landed his reputation as one of the best temple artists with his vast experience in temple building back in his homeland and thus, the artistic features of today's Longshan temple are modeled to his tastes and credit. Most of the stones used in constructing the courtyard were also originally from the ballast on the ships which sailed from the Fujian province, carrying the immigrants who later settled on the island of Taiwan.

The temple is divided into three parts; from the outer court to the middle hall where most of the worship takes place and the rear hall which was later added to the temple at the end of the 18th century.
The outer court is where the main entrance is located; and there is an attraction in the form of a small waterfall at the courtyard where tourists are often found to be snapping away at their cameras or just merely cooling it off while admiring the gushing waters from the man-made waterfall on the wall.

The outer courtyard upon entering the temple

The waterfall at the side of the courtyard which gathered photography enthusiasts before entering the temple

The Middle Hall, or the Main Hall is the centre of the temple where the crowds are gathered for the worship of the Goddess of Mercy, located inside the main temple and is the main attraction on which the temple was originally built. Devotees are seen to throng the area, and there is the unmistakable cloud of smoke and the intense scent from the continuous mass burning of the incense and joss sticks by the worshippers eager to offer their prayers to the Goddess, known for her kindness and compassion.

There are also tables spotted; with an assortment of colorful offerings, in the form of food, flowers, candles etc extravagantly lining the tables made in honor to the Goddess and the other deities.

Bright colors of the flowers and the offerings stare back from the tables; though mainly drenched in the rich tones of red, yellow, gold.

A man lighting the candles, offerings of prayers by the devotees

The scenes from the Middle/Main Court

While the temple was originally built in honor of the Goddess of Mercy, and started with the theme of Buddhism in its conceptualization, like most of the other temples in Taiwan, this evolved to be a multi denominational, or rather, a myriad temple worshipping various deities. The original Buddhist-themed temple is now a Taoist temple in nature, with inclusion of the many gods and deities in the rear section of the temple.

The Rear Hall is where these deities reside; with the patron of the scholars situated on the right side, and the courageous statue of the famous Guan Yu, a patron for military, righteousness and bravery sits on the other side, flanked by another deity famed for medicinal and healing, a patron for those in the medical line or seeking for recovery in sickness.
The Goddess Matsu sits in the centre of the temple; who, was highly regarded by the Taiwanese for she is the patron for voyagers of the sea, and the locals would pray for the safe return of anyone traveling or dealing with the trades of the sea. In fact, the Goddess Matsu is often found in other cultures too; and always in locations where the sea is involved for she watches over the sea and cast her protection over those who are at sea. Most fishermen or boatmen (sailors, ship crew) and sea travelers pay homage to her and pray for her protection over them.

It is also important to note that the local culture is to be respected at all times, and photography is usually not allowed inside the halls where the gods, goddesses and deities sit and no photography is allowed of the deities as well. It is considered if one were to take photos of the gods, therefore, it is important to be mindful of the locals' comfort when snapping away at the religious places.

Longshan Temple is one of my personal favorites, and the rich history and mystical power of the temple is evident in the crowds that gathered for the worship of the Goddess of Mercy and the other gods residing in the temple.
It is an interesting picture of religious beliefs and the local style in worshipping the gods; though did not differ much from other places still had its unique characteristics and the touch of the local culture.
I was in awe of the beautiful temple, and touched by the beauty of the devotion by the locals towards their religion, a trait which is to be continued and passed on to generations to come.

The temple, in her own history and legendary magic has earned her the Secondary National Heritage Site which means the temple will be in conservation for the future generations to continue the traditions and the mystic of the place.
Outside the temple is also a vibrant scene of cars, motorcycles swerving against each other amidst the   street peddlers wooing the passersby to their flowers, fruits, vegetables stalls while monks can also be spotted sitting under shaded areas near to the temple, meditating.

It is an unforgettable scene filled with the colors from the walks of life; and yes, it's a lifestyle that can be found as one arrives at Longshan Temple and should not be missed, at all.
The tales of survival of the camphor wooden statue of Goddess of Mercy from the air raid during the World War II and the earthquake which almost flattened the temple, yet the statue remains standing with only dust and debris gathered at her wooden feet is enough to put this spot on any tourist's list.

It is no wonder this is one of the most famous temples in Taiwan.

Getting to Longshan Temple
Take the Blue Line and alight at the Longshan station
(Follow the signs leading to the temple in the underground station, you will pass through an underground mall)

Admission Fee: Free
Operating Hours: 6.00am -10.00pm (Daily)

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