to listen to Paola talk about this festival
is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.
At seven the next morning, individuals and costumed pilgrim groups
return, stopping every three steps on the temple's “Ladder to
Heaven,” to prostrate themselves.
Mazu's image has been moved into the open air and surrounded by offerings,
flowers and gifts. People kneel to pray on the pillows in front her
altar. Even tots barely old enough to sit alone are placed on the pillows
to bow to the goddess.
Thousands stand on the ceremonial terrace, but the venturesome ones
sit on the rock outcroppings or high in the trees. Girls and boys scramble
to the top of the temple rooftops, and perch, one leg on either side
of the peak. I have been given access to the highest floor of the bell
tower: literally a bird's eye view.
A woman enters the drum tower and, using two long sticks whose ends
are bound with red cloth, sounds a hanging gong that must be eight
feet in diameter. It reverberates, perhaps for miles. The
ceremony has begun. Women costumed as ancient
soldiers clear the terrace, which is carpeted in fuchsia.
Hundreds of dancers carrying streaming
pennants parade up the steps, the men wearing robes of frosted gold,
the women dressed in frosted pink. They use long feathers to create
arches between them, seeming to swirl and float, integrate and atomize,
cluster and serpentine in a graceful, sophisticated choreography.
Finally, women bearing trays of fruit
and packages of noodles present these offerings to Mr. Gnag Jin Lin,
the Chairman of the temple, who dedicates them to Mazu with incense
The entire performance is so beautiful
that sometimes I actually forget to take pictures. I have never
before attended a birthday party nearly as grand.