By Shin-Han Kwan, The China Post
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The festival celebrating Goddess Mazu’s ascension to heaven (媽祖升天祭) will be held on Oct. 13 (the ninth day of the ninth month on the lunar calender) on Matsu, the Lienchiang county government announced recently.
The very name of Matsu, a set of outlying Taiwanese islands located near mainland China, is derived from the goddess. Mazu is a goddess of the sea who is believed to protect sailors and fishermen. Legend says that Mazu was born in 960 as Lin Moniang (林默娘). She was known to stand on the shoreline and guide home fishing boats, irrespective of whether the weather was harsh. To thank her for her self-sacrifice, people built the Tianhou temple (天后宮) in Matsu to worship her, according to local beliefs and literature. People started using Matsu as a location to pray to the goddess, and so the island was named after her, said the Lienchiang county government. Another spelling for Mazu is Matsu.
One of the accounts of Lin’s death said she swam out to sea to find her lost father. In the effort she perished and her body was washed up on Nankan island, which is part of the Matsu Island chain. Matsu holds the world’s only holy cave for Mazu, situated in the Tianhou temple. According to the Lienchiang county government, on the morning of Oct. 13, Premier Jiang Yi-hua (江宜樺) will lead a group through the blessing tunnel, and into the temple with county head Yang Suei-sheng (楊綏生) hosting the ceremony. Participants will receive a Mazu figure, said the county government.
Given that Matsu Religion Culture Park will be open to the public, the festival is going to be more magnificent than ever, said the county government. The festival, running from Oct. 10 to 14, will include short film presentations, Fujian opera, carnivals, traditional music performances and sweepstakes, according to the county government.