Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Know your traditions: Donating money for temple decoration

All of Taiwan's temples are privately funded, and many of the most famous ones are seriously wealthy. The pious, especially those who feel their prayers have been answered, donate cash or gold. Whenever a temple is redecorated or rebuilt, devotees are encouraged to pay for individual carvings or paintings. Some of these features are mass-produced, amateurish or slapdash, but many others are superb pieces of art. The donor's name is usually added to the finished piece.

Visitors to Chiayi's Cheng Huang Temple – the busiest place of worship in that city of 274,000 – will see, near the main entrance, two large panels on which are inscribed the names of those who funded the shrine's 1990 renovation. The list features nearly 3,000 names, arranged according to how much they gave. The majority forked out what must have been at least a week’s earnings.

I took these photos in a typical backstreet temple in Tainan. They show fresh wall engravings, together with red squares of paper showing who paid for them, and how much they paid. The one at the top was donated by two people surnamed Chen (the most common family name in Taiwan, incidentally). The lower picture was endowed by a person surnamed Lu. In both cases, the amount donated was NTD8,000 (about GBP160 or US$260).

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