Blog / Culture

Small Town Portraits: Dajia and the Million-Pilgrim March

Thanks to its famous temple and a remarkable annual pilgrimage that begins and ends at the shrine’s entrance, Dajia (sometimes spelled Tachia) holds a preeminent place in Taiwan’s religious culture.

Supporters of Jenn Lann Temple claim it is the island’s richest and most important shrine to Matsu, the sea goddess worshipped throughout Taiwan. Each spring, a few weeks before the deity’s birthday is celebrated on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, the faithful accompany the temple’s most revered Matsu icon on a nine-day march to affiliated temples in neighbouring counties.

Dajia Jenn Lann Temple

Onlookers and participants believe that one way they can gain the goddess’s blessings is to touch the palanquin (a kind of sedan chair) in which the icon is carried. Another is to lie down on the road in front of the procession, so the icon passes directly above their head. Up to a million people — many of whom walk the entire 300-km there-and-back route — take part in what’s said to be the world’s largest regular religious gathering outside India. 

At Jenn Lann Temple, devotion to Matsu to obvious every day of the year. In addition to asking for good health and career success, people offer prayers here when they buy new cars or motorcycles. It’s customary to bring the vehicle to the temple’s forecourt, and ask a shrine attendant to circle their vehicle while holding smouldering incense. This action is believed to flush away bad luck.

A rare Matsu effigy made of camphor wood

The temple’s interior is — for those who know what they’re looking for or have someone to guide them — a treasure house of stunning icons, valuable works created by leading folk artists, and relics which hark back to the shrine founding in the first half of the 18th century.

A stone’s throw from Jenn Lann Temple, the Lin Clan Chastity Memorial celebrates a life of a woman who suffered tragedy yet showed remarkable loyalty. Her story is a reflection of the highly traditional values that held fast in Taiwan until well into the 20th century.

Lin Clan Chastity Memorial

This elaborate carved-granite archway was built in 1848 to honour a lady who was given away as an infant by her impoverished parents. She was raised in a more prosperous household surnamed Lin in the expectation she’d eventually wed the oldest son. Unfortunately, when she was 12 years old, the boy she was destined to marry drowned in floodwater. 

Rather than strike out on her own, she stayed with the Lin family for the rest of her life. To help make ends meet, she took in washing and worked at home as a weaver. When food was short, she insisted that her mother-in-law eat the tastiest morsels while she made do with rice gruel. Her fidelity and integrity were applauded by her neighbours and local leaders. Eventually, imperial officials in distant Beijing (between 1664 and 1895, Taiwan was part of Qing Dynasty China) consented to the erection of this memorial.

Admiration during her lifetime resulted in prayers and offerings after her death. Lin’s spirit has long been worshipped by local people who regard her as a rainmaker. Even now an effigy of her is honoured inside Jenn Lann Temple.

A small-town scene near Dajia

A few miles outside Dajia, there’s another special religious site. The Baogong Stone is phallus-shaped rock where childless couples hoping for a baby seek divine assistance — and true believers say the stone has a track record of curing infertility at least a few times each month.

The Dajia area can be explored as a one-day or half-day excursion from Taichung, central Taiwan’s fast-growing metropolis. Because reaching the town by public transport isn’t especially convenient and few people there speak English, touring with a car and a driver-guide is recommended. 

To make the most of your time in Dajia or any part of Taiwan, get in touch with us today. Our experienced travel designers would love to share their know-how and help you plan a customised trip that suits your every need.