Ahh, great God King Qingshan, responsible for the Bangka Temple Festival… Another cultural event I sort of stumbled upon not doing my due diligence as a tourist to inform myself properly about current festivals. Fireworks late at night had been going on for a few days – Vanida, a friend, from her posh perch in the sky kept posting photos. So on December 6 I headed for the noise… and experienced the most intense crowds and fire cracker explosions and smoke ever… crazy! And worth it – at least this one time 🙂
The Qingshan King festival is seen by local people as a “little new year in Bangka,” with temples holding roadside banquets (bando in Taiwanese Hokkien) to celebrate the birth of the god in the earlier times.
Legend has it that a fisherman from Hui-an, China brought the god’s image to Taiwan, hoping it would help end an epidemic raging at the time (the plague). And according to legend, those who prayed to King Qingshan were indeed healed. Not surprisingly, the number of devotees increased and their donations helped build a temple. The current day Bangka (Monga) Qingshan Temple was built in 1854 and is one of the “Four Temples of Bangka” sharing its title with Longshan Temple, Taipei Tianhou Temple and Bangka Qingshui Zushi Temple. The annual Qingshan King Festival, more commonly known to locals as the Bangka Temple Festival, is considered one of Taipei’s most important religious and cultural attractions. The revival of the festival over the past dozen years now brings large crowds from all over the island to the Bangka district for celebrations generally held October 20-22 of the Lunar calendar. Besides the procession of the many national groups devoted to Qingshan, there are stages for open air concerts, and of course food vendors.
The seemingly endless procession winding through the Bangka district is a stop and go affair passing each temple. Along the way, groups are waiting for multiple strings of hundreds of firecrackers to be properly placed and lit before moving forward. The noise, smoke, and papery pieces of the crackers thrown high in the air and all around is literally deafening and breath-taking. (Ear muffs and masks are recommended.) People are paying respect to deities at temples, receive free food and beverages along the way, wait for the smoke to clear or traffic to pass, watch musicians and dancers… It’s utter madness and wonderfully noisy and wild, full of surprises, at times overwhelming, a wild ride… As much as I feel overwhelmed by noise, crowds and smells, I also get a charge and feel incredibly alive in the midst of it all!
Looking at these images now, almost a year later, I feel something like homesick for Taiwan and doubly understand why my daughter has chosen this gem of an island as her temporary home. Can’t wait to go back sometime…
If you ever happen to be in Taipei for this festival, make sure you take in the last night and witness the dragon dance in front of Longshan Temple – which I unfortunately missed.
I’m sure there would be lots more to say about this festival, but given how long this post has sat in my draft folder, I’ll leave it at this and just publish. Hope you enjoyed the trip. Until next time 🙂