WORDS BY Tu Hsinyi
TRANSLATION BY Joe Henley
PHOTOS BY Huaug Jianbin, Liang Zhongxian
The well-known Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple (台北霞海城隍廟), Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺), and Zhaomingjing Temple (照明淨寺) in Taipei are meccas for people looking for love or marriage, attracting not only Taiwanese but also foreign tourists.
Are you still seeking your significant other? The romantic Qixi (Chinese Valentine’s Day, 七夕) is coming soon, so why not begin your journey to these places and pray to Yue Lao (月老) and Guanyin (觀音) to reveal your romantic fate? (More: 13 Tips for having a deeper Taiwan Temple experience)
Gods Watching Over You
Holding The Book of Marriage (姻緣簿) in his left hand and a walking stick in his right, the longbearded Yue Lao, with red strings lung over his shoulders, is known as the god of marriage and love in Taoism.
Yue Lao’s origin derives from the fictional tale entitled Continued Tales of the Fantasy – Inn of Marriage Engagement (續幽怪錄•定婚店） by Li Fuyen (李復言), a writer during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE). Legend has it that a man, Wei Gu (韋固), met an old man under the moonlight, who was regarding a book with no words, which the old man called The Coupling Records (鴛鴦譜). The old man stated that he was in charge of matching all the men and women of the world. Then, he pointed at a girl who was just three years of age, saying that she will be Wei’s future wife. Seeing that the girl was plain and unremarkable, Wei sent someone to assassinate her. Years later, Wei Gu married a woman who had a scar on her eyebrow. After questioning her, he realized that she was the girl the old man had said he would marry. Hereafter, Yue Lao, also known as the Old Man under the Moon or Yuexia Laoren (月下老人), became known as the god of love and marriage.
The most famous places in Taipei for praying for good luck in love are none other than Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple and Longshan Temple. People might find some differences in Yue Lao at these two temples in their eyebrows, but other trademarks such as the long beard, The Book of Marriage, and walking stick can be seen at both locations. Different from most Gods who are mostly represented in a sitting position, Yue Lao is always depicted as standing, implying that he’s diligently working for the people.
Yue Lao’s Buddhist counterpart is Guanyin, the goddess of compassion. The Thousand-Handed Guanyin, also known as “Guanyin with a Thousand Hands and Eyes,” (千手千眼觀世音) protects people with her many hands and watches over the world with her thousand eyes, fulfilling all wishes of all beings. Zhaomingjing Temple, located at the hill before Junjianyan (軍艦岩) in Beitou, has an elegant name of “the Temple of Lovers” due to the fact that a statue of Niulang and Zhinu (牛郎織女, the couple who can only meet each other on Qixi in a Chinese folk tale) can be found within. In the main temple lies the “Guanyin with Four Faces and One Thousand Hands” (四相千手觀音) which has stood there for more than two centuries and is regarded as very effective in granting worshipers a good marriage.
Conversing with the Gods
Wu Menghuan (吳孟寰), who has been helping out at Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple since his student days, continued his efforts of marketing and promotion for the temple after completing military service. For more than a decade, he’s seen many people come to the temple, seeking eternal companionship. Once, a woman of about 40 years of age came to the temple with her husband to worship and thank Yue Lao for making her dream came true, which delighted Wu to no end. He said, “Since my time as a student, she would always come to visit Yue Lao after exercising, and then go to work. For more than a decade, she continued her visits, and now she has finally fulfilled her wish. I’m really happy for her.”
Familiar faces can be seen every day no matter the situation. He continues, “Some have been waiting for years, but I’ve seen some others fulfill their wishes very soon. The soonest one was when someone received a call from his crush within 30 minutes of praying to Yue Lao.”
There was also a time when a taxi driver spoke about the efficacious deeds of Yue Lao when he came back to express his appreciation. Years earlier, the driver came into a relationship with a girl. Though they knew each other just for a short time, he considered that the girl was the one he could be with for the rest of his life. Therefore, he visited Yue Lao one day prior to a date with the girl. On the next day, the girl told him, “I had a dream last night. An old man whom I don’t know told me that I must marry you.” Afterwards, they were indeed joined together in holy matrimony.
Such manifestations of remarkable fate in Taipei’s “marriage” temples attract tourists from the world over as well. Besides printing handbooks in English and Japanese, staffs at Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple and Longshan Temple also guide tourists and introduce them to feature throughout the temple. Yue Lao is dedicated to fulfilling the wishes of any who visit him no matter where they come from or what the language they speak. As such, the tributes presented by worshipers now often include wedding cakes from Japan or Korea.
Wedding Cakes as Tribute and “After-Sale Services”
After making a good match, don’t forget to give gratitude to Yue Lao and Guanyin. Paying tribute can be done in various ways. Some will make a cash donation or make golden medals for the gods, but most people will give wedding cakes to share their joy. Householder Xingzhi (行至居士) who handles administrative affairs in Zhaomingjing Temple says, “This kind of tribute is the least hassle, and it can be done by anyone.” After receiving the wedding cakes, the temple often shares them with those faithful ones who are also seeking their good fortune and joy.
Such tributes not only convey gratitude to Yue Lao, but also serve as an offering for family peace and a prosperous bloodline to other deities as well. For example, staff in Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple will lead those who come to pay their respects to Yue Lao to give their thanks to him first, then take them to the Wife of the City God (城隍夫人) to pray for family peace, and finally to the Birth-Giving Goddess (註生娘娘) for her divine protection and blessing. The staff says in an amused tone that this series of tributes can be called the “after-sale services” offered by Yue Lao.
To many people, marriage is the biggest event in their lifetime. Are you still waiting for “the one”? Perhaps Yue Lao and Guanyin have already matched you with someone in The Book of Marriage, and are merely waiting for you to declare your love in front of them.
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