The plague festival will be reduced

The Wangye Worship Ceremony in Donggang County (東 港) of Pingtung County is being held this year on a smaller scale than originally planned as part of the country’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The festival, which takes place today through Sunday next week, normally attracts tens of thousands of participants performing rituals to prevent the spread of epidemics, making it one of the largest religious rituals in the south from Taiwan.

The festival, which takes place every three years, is limited to 98 groups this year, up from around 200 groups who attended in 2018, said Progressive Democratic Party lawmaker Chou Chun-mi (周春 米), from Pingtung.

The number of participants is limited to 5,000, compared to 20,000 in previous iterations.

The worship of Wangye – who are said to be divine emissaries in this world – is especially popular in southern Taiwan. They are believed to expel disease and evil from those who worship them.

Influenced by traditions imported from the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, the Wangye cult was widely adopted at a time when epidemics were frequent and medical knowledge was lacking in Taiwan.

The ceremony, centered around the Donglong Temple (東 隆 宮), has been taking place for around 300 years. The highlight of the eight-day event is the burning of a royal boat built by a devotee especially for the festival, which symbolizes the liberation of the Wangye.

The tradition of burning boats goes back around 1,000 years, and some historians believe it may have been inspired by the discovery that fire is effective in destroying pathogens, the Tourism Board said.

Building a royal boat, which typically features detailed paintings of dragons, elephants and sages, often costs as much as a sports car, the office said.

In 2010, the ceremony was classified as intangible cultural property by the Ministry of Culture.

Despite its smaller scale this year, the festival is expected to draw a large crowd, as some believe participation can prevent bad luck and bring blessings.

Traffic controls are in place around the temple and visitors are advised to plan their trips in advance. Wearing a mask is mandatory at all times.

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