Taiwan has more than 5000 temples, ranging in size from single room shrines to vast multi-story complexes. All of these temples are not simply museums or relics of bygone era, but active places of worship.
The oldest temple in Taiwan is found in Makung, in the Pengu Islands, and has been in existence for over 300 years.
There are three main varieties of temple in Tawian: Buddhist, Taoist and Confucius temples- reflecting Taiwan's religious make-up. For full information on Taiwan's Religions click here Religion in Taiwan.
During the 50 year Japanese occupation of Taiwan there was widespread persecution of Taoism- seen as the embodiment of Chinese culture- which meant that Taoists had to secretly worship in Buddhist temples.
This wonderful example of tolerance and acceptance gave birth to Taiwan's unique blend of Buddhist and Taoist belief- and the physical merging of the two temples into single structures.
Individual Taoist and Buddhist temples and separate, simpler Confucius temples are also found, although in some temples, Confucian portraits are found alongside Buddhist and Taoist shrines, merging all three faiths into a single place of worship.
Traveling through Taiwan you will find temples at every turn, each one a unique place that plays a vibrant role in the life and soul of modern Taiwan.
Taoist Temples tend to be bright and colourful structures, with broad curving roofs that are adorned with divine figures and traditional symbols of luck such as dragons and carp.
While the temples do not have resident monks or nuns, they are often filled with devotees, and are used as the base for many ceremonies ranging from parades to exorcisms. Taoist ceremonies are as brash and colorful as their temples, with music, chanting and firecrackers.
The central area of a Taoist temple is a large oven, where sacrificial "Ghost Money" is burnt as an offering to ancestral spirits.
One of the main Tao deities is Matsu- the goddess of the sea, who protects and blesses fisherman and sailors and is often prayed to by those embarking on a long journey over the sea. Her image is seen throughout most of Taiwan???s Taoist temples. Also often seen is the bright red faced Kuankung, a deified version of a famed warrior who lived in the 3rd Century.
The entrance to a Taiwanese Buddhist Temple is usually guarded by a pair of warrior statues, each armed with an axe. Most temple structures incorporate a Pagoda, used as a storage house for religious relics and for the ashes of deceased devotees.
Inside, the temples are places of peace and quiet, with some form of representation of Buddha, often flanked by a pair of saints.
Other deities represented include Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Shihchia, the personification of Buddha.
Larger Buddhist temples are usually also monasteries with resident monks who take care of the temple and its gardens, Some Taiwanese monasteries offer accommodation to pilgrims and travelers.
Compared to a Taoist or Buddhist Temple, a Confucius temple is a very simple, austere place, with little decoration and no deities or holy figures. It is a place for quiet contemplation, and there is no burning of incense or blasting of fireworks.
Once a year on 28 September- Confucius??? Birthday- a simple ceremony is held in Confucius temples. The short ceremony is held at around 4am, and involves a simple single sacrifice.