There is a tradition that in appreciation of Luermen Mazu’s blessing in expelling the Dutch, Koxinga (or ‘Zheng Chenggong’, 1624 – 1662) reconstructed the Luermen Mazu Temple at the location where he landed in his mission to remove the Dutch. The Luermen Mazu Temple subsequently became one of the locations to best illustrate Koxinga’s accomplishments in developing Taiwan. It is the world’s largest Mazu temple, occupying forty hectares of land and featuring a towering and majestic appearance comparable to that of ancient Chinese palaces. The temple contains artifacts such as the flexible Mazu statue made during the Ming dynasty. The ritual stele (standing stone) of the Ji Leopard, one of the Twenty-Eight Mansions of the Chinese constellations system and responsible for the control of water, made in 1831illustrates the Daoist flood-suppressing ceremonies practiced at the time and serves as a record of the floods that have affected the temple.
The Orthodox Luermen Mazu Temple is the world’s largest Mazu temple. It was established in 1661 by Koxinga after he arrived in Taiwan to expel the Dutch. Rumor has it that upon successfully landing in Taiwan, Koxinga and his crew saw a Mazu temple and believed their success in driving out the Dutch was due to the blessing of Mazu. Koxinga therefore appropriated the funds to renovate and expand the temple to enshrine the statues of the Mazu of Civil Affairs, the Mazu of Military Affairs, and the Mazu of National Prosperity that accompanied the fleet. The temple was designated to perform the important Spring and Fall Ceremonies. In 1831, flooding of the Zengwun River destroyed the original Luermen Mazu Temple and the statues it enshrined were relocated to Sanjiao Hai’an Temple and Tainan’s Shuixian Temple. In 1913, a ritual boat of the Wang Ye folk religion from Quanzhou’s Fumei Temple was found drifting at a location close to Luermen Mazu Temple’s modern site. Locals gave prayers to Mazu and obtained her approval to retrieve the boat and prepare for the reconstruction of the Luermen Temple, this time dedicated to both Mazu and Wang Ye. The very popular Luermen Mazu Temple, which draws a large crowd of worshippers, was reconstructed for the third time in 1981 and adopted the official name of Orthodox Luermen Sheng-Mu (Mazu) Temple.
The Luermen Mazu Temple complex and its temple halls occupies forty hectares of land. The south-facing temple has a large front gate and three halls along a north–south axis, as well as wings and cloisters on either side that connect the various structures together. The temple is topped with eaves richly decorated using beautifully colored glaze. The temple complex include several structures such as the Wang Ye Hall, the main hall dedicated to Mazu), and the rear hall, which enshrines the Buddha and various bodhisttvas on its first and second floor and the Jade Emperor on its third floor. All the halls feature a high ceiling supported by eight large red pillars, thus creating a unique and modern temple style. With buildings that imitate the design of Beijing’s Forbidden City the temple is also surrounded by a moat. With a towering appearance rivaling that of ancient palaces, the temple is the largest of the many Mazu temples around the world.
2Ming Dynasty Flexible Mazu Statues
The first and second Mazu statues in the Luermen Mazu Temple are ‘flexible’ statues (i.e., the bodies of the statues are supported by a wooden structure) of about life-size. The statues were made without the use of nails, exemplifying the extraordinary mortise and tenon joinery of Imperial China. The first Mazu statue has a part of her hair made into a bun with two tails running along the sides, while the other part formed a ponytail that droops down the middle of her back. Solemn, dignified, and true-to-life, the statue seems to smile back at her visitors. According to the appraisals of art historians, the statue was built during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).
3The Efficacious Yue Lao
Yue Lao, whose full name literally means “old man under the moon,” is the god of marriage and love in the Chinese pantheon. Legend has it that he uses an invisible red silk thread to unite all predestined couples, and that after being united in this way, nothing can prevent their union. The Yue Lao at the Luermen Mazu Temple is said to be particularly repsonsive to the prayers of the faithful; more than twenty thousand couples have come here to pray for marriage have gone on to successfully tie the knot. On the couple register boards in the corridors and stairwells in the back hall, countless marriage cards that signify Yue Lao’s successful work can be found.
4Tucheng’s Centipede Performance Troupe
The Tucheng Pilgrimage organized by Luermen Mazu Temple involves a large crowd of worshippers offering incense and prayers was designated an intangible cultural asset by the Tainan City Government in 2013. The pilgrimage is made by various performance troupes, among which the centipede troupe of Qingcao village best represents the union of the temple and the locals. It is believed that the centipede troupe has the divine power to ward off evil, dispel disasters, protect the well-being of the local vicinity, give hope tothose in need and resolve calamity. Therefore, the head and tail parts of the centipede costume are kept inside the shrine of the Buddha Hall in the Luermen Mazu Temple. The full centipede costume is reattached three days prior to the tour of the pilgrimage. A centipede toupe requires thirty-six members, most of whom are children whose costumes are made by their family and friends. Competition between the children has resulted in increasingly gorgeous costumes being made. This in all makes it one of the most distinctive features of the centipede troupe.
5The Ji Leopard Ritual Stele
In 1831, Luermen Mazu Temple was hit by a flood from the nearby Zengwun River. Soaked and corroded by the flood, the the temple began to subside and the walls started to crack. To protect the temple, the Sanjiao Public Bureau and followers from the Luerman Village built the Ji Leopard ritual stele in the temple square, as the Ji Leopard was believed to be a constellation with the power to control water. In addition, ceremonies were held to pray for the suppression of the flood. The Ji Leopard originates from the Twenty-Eight Mansions of the Chinese constellations depicted in Daoism. The Ji Mansion is related to water and is symbolized by a leopard; it is therefore referred to as the Ji Leopard. The ritual stele is evidence of Daoism’s flood-suppressing ceremony and records a history of the floods that have hit the temple. Despite all this, the temple later experienced further damage and collapsed, burying the stele underground. In 1999, excavation attempts were made to recover the old Luermen Mazu Temple, during which the stele resurfaced. The location where the stele was discovered was also where the two major Mazu temples in Luermen, the Orthodox Luermen Mazu Temple and the Luermen Tienhogong, were established.
The Luermen Mazu Temple has its own pilgrim building to provide accommodation for its visitors. To welcome the arrival of the Chinese New Year, a New Year Carnival is held on the first day of the first lunar month. The carnival hosts activities renowned nationwide such as the Spring Ox Parad and a huge firework.