Tag Archives: religion

Mazu Statue, Hsinwu

This is the largest statue of Mazu (媽祖) in the world, located in Hsinwu (新屋), the township which is home for much of my wife’s extended family.

Mazu, perhaps the most popular Chinese deity in Taiwan, is considered the goddess of the sea, and has an estimated 800-1,000 temples dedicated to her name on the island.

The statue stands at about 50 feet tall, overlooking the sea. This is appropriate as Mazu is perhaps the most popular Chinese deity in Taiwan. This is evidenced by a pilgrimage which lasts for three days each spring.

 

Temple Ornamentation in Sanxia

Taken in Sanxia at the main city temple, these are located on the second floor of the large building, which includes pretty traditional but ornate architectural elements. While it’s similar to most other temples in Taiwan, it’s a bit special in that there just seems to be a bit more. Sanxia is one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve posted about it a few times before.

Reprocessed Shots: Places of Worship

Since I’ve been lazy with the camera as of late, I decided to at least reprocess some photos I have backed up as NEF (“raw”) files. Some of these date 3-4 years.

While I’m not personally an overtly religious person, places of worship have always fascinated me – something people who have followed this blog will notice. In a way, they encapsulate a place’s culture. I think a perfect example is this first church, located in Hsinchu, Taiwan. Note the differences in architecture compared to the American churches below.

Something else that interests me is the difference between more rural and urban churches. In League City, Texas, a small farm town until it expanded recently due to suburban expansion, Saint Mary Church’s old building is now a historical site for the town. I found its humble stature interesting, especially compared to St. Paul, located in nearby Houston.

For good measure I included a few Buddhist temples which also show differences in geography. This is less evident however in these photos, but can be seen when visiting these temples in China/Taiwan/Hong Kong versus Thailand and Cambodia.

Above: a church located in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

A Buddhist temple located on the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, Thailand.

A Baptist church in Taipei, Taiwan.

The “Big Buddha” of Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong.

  

Left: Wellington First Congregational Church in Wellington, Ohio. Right: Wellington First United Methodist Church in Wellington, Ohio.

  

Left: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston, TX. Right: St. Mary (Old) Catholic Church, League City, TX.

A Diagram of Enlightenment: Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur, located in central Java, Indonesia, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the oldest and most important Buddhist structures. Lost to the jungles and the earth until the mid-19th century, it was first completed around 825 CE, when Java and much of modern-day Indonesia was predominantly Buddhist and Hindu. By the 14th century, the Hindu and Buddhist dynasties declined, giving rise to Islam in the archipelago.

Today, Borobudur and its nearby Hindu companion, Prambanan, are sources of cultural pride for the predominantly Muslim country of Indonesia. Much like Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Borobudur and Prambanan connect to a mighty and mysterious past when traders from India, the Arabic world, and East Asia converged in the region to form great dynasties.

The monument is meant to portray a sort of “diagram” of Enlightenment. From above, Borobudur represents a Buddhist mandala or map of the universe, and this is noticed when climbing the monument. As the pilgrim ascends the monument, one sees bas reliefs of different stages of  Gautama Buddha’s life as well as the law of karma. In addition, statues of the Buddha represent certain meanings with mudras, or the positions of Gautama’s hands. These seating positions take place inside and out of stupas, or places for meditation which resemble cages. As a result, the top of this monument leads to the Buddhas being commonly referred to as the “caged Buddhas” of Indonesia.

Above: Tour groups, mostly from Indonesia, descend on Indonesia’s most-visited tourist attraction. Notice the school group at bottom right. Western tourists can expect to be asked to be included in quite a few of the locals’ photos!

Above: Buddhas sit in their stupas along the exterior of the temple. Notice the missing heads of some Buddhas. As with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, many heads are missing due to treasure hunters.

Above: One of the more complete statues which has survived the elements and treasure hunters.

Above: These two shots show the extensive bas reliefs along the sides of the temple. Stories of teaching, enlightenment, and the results of karma are told. Many of these reliefs are being slowly torn apart by the elements, including the harsh monsoon rains.

 

 

Above: A Buddha sits in a half-open stupa near the top of the temple. On a clear day, Mt. Merapi, an active volcano, is present. We seemed to have had too much haze to see it clearly.

Above: Caged stupas near the top.

 

In addition to Borobudur, there are two other temples in the area. The larger and more impressive of the two is Mendut, which also consists of a Buddhist monastery. Actually older than Borobudur, it is a starting point in a yearly religious pilgrimage for local Buddhists. It is geographically located in a straight line connecting Borobudur on one end, Pawon in the middle, and Mendut on the other side.

Above: Mendut temple.

Above: Main statue in Mendut Temple.

Above: The adjacent Mendut Buddhist Monastery. Notice the Javanese architecture in the main building to the left.

Further Reading: Borobudur Wikipedia Article and Mendut Wikipedia Article

Pu Zhao Temple, Jhudong

These are from around Jhudong (竹東), the city where I teach. First is the exterior of Pu-Zhao Temple, a Buddhist monastery…

…and its big Buddha who overlooks my school:

Jhubei Temple Parade, October 2012

Last Sunday, a celebration of San Tai Zi ( 三太子), a major figure in Taiwan’s popular and religious culture occurred throughout the streets of Jhubei, heading north toward Hsinfeng. I’m always excited by the chances I get to see these parades as I really get to experience the culture, practice my bad Chinese, and interact with the people.

  

Above: a spirit medium representing who I believe to be San Tai Zi dances in front of a moving altar with onlookers watching. This was taking place, as you might see with the truck in the background, on a busy highway bridge to Hsinfeng.

Above: a temple leader shows off his sash.

Above: a two-faced god, representing Yin and Yang (陰陽).

Single Shot: Tainan “General”

This is a repost of a reprocessed image I took in Tainan a year and a half ago. I decided to redo the RAW file as I’m trying to improve my processing skills by bringing new life to old photos. The original can be found partway down the page here.

For this shot, I warmed up the image’s white balance, increased some sharpening and contrast, and balanced the stark dark and light levels to even out the image but still put a focus on the faces. Any improvement here shows the importance of keeping RAW files, among other things.

Lion Dance and Temple Ceremony, Guqifeng (古奇峰), Hsinchu

A month ago, I visited Guqifeng, or 古奇峰, a temple in Hsinchu marked with a very large statue of the god of war, Guan Gong, on top of a mountain just east of the city. Last weekend, while visiting the general area, my wife and I noticed something going on inside and saw a lion dance troupe preparing to perform. Here are some shots from this performance.

Above: the drumline beats out the rhythm for the dancers. These guys were very talented and drumming is an art of its own in Taiwanese and Chinese culture.

A performer tests the stands before the performance by jumping between them. These performers will rarely make mistakes, but an important safety procedure for this was a group of performers underneath, holing the stand steady and acting as a buffer for falling friends. This did happen – the first time I’ve seen this happen before – and the performers who fell were perfectly fine, their fall being broken as they were caught. During this time, the drums kept going and the lion dancers were back in no time.

A confetti-covered ground marks the main ceremony area before the lion dance performer took the stage.

A walking god watches as the altar of another god “visits” the temple god. The confetti canons were set up at a climax during the ceremony and I was happy for a wider angle lens here.

Lion dancers jump across. Notice the drummers yelling below.

Mazu’s Carrier and More from Jhubei Mazu Parade

This man was at the Jhubei Mazu Temple parade last November, which I posted lots of photos from after the event. I’ve decided to go ahead and post a few more, as I have neglected quite a few decent shots from that day.

If you ever end up following one of these groups, it’s best to make sure you have water, a mask, and earplugs. Trust me.

Visit to 古奇峰 (Guqifeng), Hsinchu

Guqifeng, which translates to “ancient peaks,” is sort of hard to describe. Its most obvious mark is a huge statue of Guang Gong, the god of war. In addition, a statue garden and museum are also on the grounds and provide viewers a sometimes fascinating and sometimes – somewhat strange – view of various statues, historical artifacts, and religious symbols.

Starting off is the Guang Gong statue, easily seen throughout the mountaintop area:

This shrine of the Hindu god Brahma in the Thai style was interesting, especially after I visited Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine last summer. I saw these in a few other temples in the area, indicating that the deity is popular locally.

One of the interesting parts about Guqifeng is the large collection of statues from around the world. Here’s a copy of one of the famed Terra Cotta warriors, something that wasn’t too out of place…

…and some statues of who I think is Guan Yin. Two copies with awkward smiles…

…and a Buddha in the woods also made sense…

…but once I saw Beethoven’s bust and some other European items, I knew there would be quite a bit of diversity with the selection…

…and then a mythical beast of some sorts? I have been in Taiwan long enough to have never recognized this in Chinese mythology/religion. I have no clue what it is.

Some statues weren’t taken care of very well or just fell into disrepair. I guess this can be expected.

At any rate, I had a great time exploring this site. It’s located in a slightly hard to find spot but can be found through Google Maps. In the next few days, I’ll be posting more from another trip – this time to Sanxia, Taipei again.