Tai ‘an Temple
Tai ‘an Temple takes a bit of work to find, but once you get there you’ll be glad you came. The route to the temple runs on back roads that wind through miles of rice paddy-covered flatlands stippled with homesteads and communities. It feels a bit surreal when you finally round a broad bend between low houses only to suddenly find yourself facing a massive temple standing against a backdrop of empty sky.
Everything about this temple is big, ornate, and over-the-top—and the impression is only increased by the fact that there is nothing around to compete with it. Tai ‘an Temple is not a typical courtyard temple; instead, it was constructed as a single large building with drum and bell towers flanking it on both sides and topped with a soaring, triple-eaved roof aswarm with qilins and dragon-riding warriors.
The interior of the temple doesn’t disappoint. There are almost no flat surfaces—everywhere you look is lavishly carved, gilded, and ornamented. The door gods on the five sets of doors are actually larger-than-life statues. Huge gilt columns support the immense vaulted roof, which rises in a series of richly decorated caisson wells with painted fairies at the sides.
The effigy of Mazu, the goddess of the sea and the primary deity worshipped here, is enthroned in a large niche at the back wall which is set back into telescoping layers of ornate golden frames. She is, of course, attended by her trusty demon-guardians Wind Ears and Thousand-Mile Eyes, and her throne is fronted by several enormous black lacquer altar tables topped with orchids and deity statues.
But it’s the sacred pigs’ feet that are the real show stoppers. On the right end of the altar tables is a small platform covered in gold silk that showcases nine mummified pigs’ feet mounted on stands. In the midst of all this splendor, they look more than a bit creepy, but they are there for a reason. These are the feet of pigs that were sacrificed and sanctified through immersion in holy incense as they were carried along during the temple’s quadrennial inspection parade. Worshippers who are in dire need of spiritual aid can make a special request of the temple shamans to be blessed in a ceremony using one of the pigs’ feet, which have absorbed some of Mazu’s powers through the incense. This practice is unique to Tai ‘an Temple and is not something that you’ll see anywhere else.
You may wonder how this huge, magnificently decorated temple seemingly sprang up in the middle of nowhere. The answer is that Tai ‘an Temple is the primary place of worship for 59 villages and towns in the region, so it actually serves a large if dispersed, population. In fact, the area governed by the temple is large enough that the local Mazu inspection parade is held only once every four years, since it takes several days to carry her effigy through all of the communities whose spiritual welfare she safeguards, and a great deal of planning is required for the event. Mazu’s next tour is scheduled for spring of 2019, and should be pretty spectacular, so it’s a good time to visit.
No. 4, Xiajiadong, Houbi Dist., Tainan City
+886 6 6871671