The just concluded ‘Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival’, of Taiwan is a historical event that is celebrated in Taiwan with a lot of aplomb.
This year it was celebrated between October 28 – November 4. It happens once in three years and the merriment last over a period of eight days. During this time, the southern port town of Donggang is abuzz with folk rituals, gaiety and joyous celebrations as the symbolic large, life-sized wooden ship goes up in flames at the stroke of midnight.
As mythology goes, this festival is celebrated to invoke gods to come to earth and ward off diseases. They are supposed to remove evils, demons and bad spirits.
Taiwanese society considers this as an important part of their cultural assimilation.
The highlight of the festival is the 15-metre-long wooden ship that is carved, painted and decorated according to traditions. During the festival, the ship is first paraded around the city and then taken to the beach, where it is then burnt to pieces. The ship is supposed to absorb the bad spirits, diseases and misfortune. The worshippers then load the boat with rice, money and all sorts of goods to make it ready for its final journey.
On the last day of the festival, accompanied by impressive fireworks, the boat is taken to the beach around midnight. Finally, amidst much fanfare, the boat is set alight and as flames engulf it, the bad spirits are supposed to disappear.
The origin of this festival goes back more than 1000 years to the Song dynasty, where deities were believed to have the ability to prevent diseases.
The festival was brought to Taiwan by Fujian immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, and have continued into modern times. Many southern temples still hold their own small boat burning, but a greater number have simply merged their traditions with Donglong Temple.
On the last day, when ship ritual is accompanied by prayers at the temple, one special feast of 108 dishes, which includes famous traditional palace foods, local snacks, fruit and wine.
People from far and wide come to witness this magnificent ceremony and there isn’t even place to stand.
Taiwan’s cultural festival is a unique one and a symbol of their traditions, beliefs and historical dominance.