Religious life in Taiwan is alive and kicking seven days a week at the Longshan Temple. Though not the biggest temple in the city, there is something unique and beautiful about the vibe at Longshan that keeps people coming back.
As the story goes, a passer-by left an amulet of the Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) hanging on a tree on the site of the present temple, and the amulet shone so brightly, even after dark, that all who passed by knew the site was blessed.
The temple was finished in 1738 during the Ching dynasty; the stones that line the courtyard of the temple were originally ballast on the ships that ferried immigrants from Fujian province across the often treacherous Taiwan Straits.
In 1985 the Taiwanese government listed Longshan Temple as a national historical site.
Nearly three centuries later, the spot still exudes certain warmth.
Entering the main building, we were hit by a riot of scarlet and gold in the form of enormous bronze incense burners and carved-stone columns. It was half past 9pm and there were crowds of worshippers streaming in and out of the compounds.
Like many temples in Taiwan, the Longshan temple is multidenominational. Although the Guanyin is still the central deity worshipped here, the temple enshrines 165 other deities. Along the back wall are several bays containing different gods on the right is the patron of scholarly pursuits, while on the left is the god of military pursuits and business people. The goddess Matsu is in the centre, and provides for the safe return of travelers by sea or land; air travelers pay their respects to the Guanyin. Matsu is flanked by two male guards, one is said to see 1000 miles, while the other can hear 1000 miles.
At the back of the temple are huge columns of numerous lights. Each light represents one person whose family has made a donation to the temple.
I first had to ask the gods a question. After presenting the question, I had to draw at random one of the numerous wooden sticks from a metal container. Each stick was engraved with a number and next I had to ask the gods if this was the right number to answer my question. With that thought in mind, I then dropped 2 pieces of crescent shaped wood onto the floor. One side was round while the other side was flat. The answer from the gods is NO if both sides faced up the same way. The gods approve of the number if both pieces had different sides facing up.
It is said that if the gods did not want to answer, one could be dropping the pieces endlessly, looking for both pieces to land differently on the ground. I actually dropped the wood pieces no less than 7 times, and each time I had to reselect another numbered wooden stick, before the gods deemed my number to hold the correct advice for me. 53 was the number for me!
The advice from the gods is written on these pieces of paper, and there are tons of literatures on the adjacent shelves teaching believers how to interpret the cryptic messages. Everest told me that the message from the gods was very good as it had the words 上上 (up, up) on one corner of the paper. There were others with 上中， 中中or even 下下. My grasp of the Chinese language is not fantastic and I chose the easy way out of approaching the temple interpreter to get my advice translated into something I could make sense of.
For believers, an opportunity to show gratitude for blessings and ask for more blessings.
For non-believers, an opportunity to observe believers.