Nankunshen Daitian Temple
Nankunshen Daitian Temple
Nankunshen Daitian Temple is one of the oldest and most important temples in Taiwan. The temple was first built in the 1660s during the Ming Dynasty. It is the first temple in Taiwan dedicated to the worship of the Wangye, or Five Royal Lords.
The First Temple
Nankunshen Temple dates from the Ming Dynasty, and its beginnings are shrouded in mystery. One explanation states that fishermen found a boat washed ashore in Tainan’s old lagoon. When they went to check the contents, all they found on board were wooden effigies of the Wangye, the trunk of a tree, and a banner with the names of the Gods written on it. The locals then built a thatched enclosure as an altar and placed the effigies there for worship and offerings. Afterwards, the people of the area began pulling in record catches of fish; they also found that their prayers to the gods to cure illness and disease were answered.
In appreciation for the good fortune the gods brought to their worshippers, the people decided to build a temple, which was completed in 1662. Shortly after the completion of the temple, renowned Chinese sculptor Ma Fu was instructed in a dream to come to Taiwan and carve figures of the Five Royal Lords from the wood of the tree that had washed up with the boat. These effigies are the temple’s oldest and most venerable artifacts.
The Second Temple
Unfortunately, the area around the lagoon was vulnerable to flooding and tsunamis, and the decision was made to move the temple to higher ground. The choice of location was to be determined by the gods themselves. The location they chose—the land where the temple stands today—has excellent Feng Shui properties, and it is said that the five Wangye battled over this choice spot with the deity Wanshan Ye, a shepherd boy who had attained Buddhahood due to his piety. In the end, through the intervention of the Guanyin Buddha, they were convinced to lay aside their differences and share the land, with the result that this area has become a large complex with multiple temples. Construction on the second Nankunshen Temple was completed in 1817.
Since that time, the temple has continued to grow, undergoing multiple renovations and additions over the years, with the latest, Lingsiao Hall, completed in 2012. Besides the Five Lords, the temple houses altars to the City God, the Guanyin Buddha, and the Jade Emperor.
Nankunshen Temple and Wangye Worship in Taiwan
The Wangye, or Five Royal Lords, are among the most important deities in the Taoist pantheon. They are thought to have mortal origins, with some stories claiming they were five scholars deified because they sacrificed themselves by throwing themselves into wells to drown in an effort to save the local populace from drinking the water, which had been poisoned. The Five Royal Lords, Lords Li, Chih, Wu, Jhu, and Fan, now represent the Divine Realm on Earth (Thus the term Daitianfu, the Palace of Heaven's Representatives), where they act in their role as ghost hunters, intercede for the gods to dispel illness, and are known as bringers of good fortune.
As Taiwan's first Wangye temple, Nankunshen Temple has played a major role in the spread of Wangye worship throughout the island. When worshippers wish to build a new temple to the deities, the god effigies of the new temple must first be consecrated in an established temple, where the spirit and power of the god are imparted to the new effigy. At present, there are over 21,000 Wangye altars in Taiwan; most trace their line of descent back to Nankunshen Temple.
No. 976, Kunjiang, Beimen Dist., Tainan City 72746, Taiwan (R.O.C.)