Monday April 20, 2009
The Star Online
By JEREMY TAN
DEVOTEES turned out in full force to honour Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, with a grand procession around the streets of George Town in Penang on the occasion of her 1049th birthday.
Thousands lined the streets around the city’s heritage areas on Friday to get a glimpse of the deity’s floats and to offer prayers. It was only the second time that such a parade was held to mark the deity’s birth. The previous one was held in 2004.
Mazu is one of the most popular Chinese deities, and was worshipped by both commoners and the imperial court alike since the days of China’s Song Dynasty. The Goddess is regarded as a guardian of the sea, and fishermen, merchants and diplomats traversing the oceans prayed to her for safe passage.
Getting ready: A devotee adjusting the statue on a chariot before the procession started.
Legend has it that Mazu was born in 960 AD to a family in Meizhou, China (modern day Fujian). During her life, she was believed to have saved many seafarers in peril. After her death, there were various accounts of her appearing during stormy wea-ther to guide ships to safety.
Starting off in front of the Thean Hou Temple on Muntri Street, the procession included several floats, chariots, a dragon dance and se-veral lion dancers.
Leading the way at the front of the parade were the statues of Na Cha (Third Prince of the Gods) and Mazu’s guardian generals Qianli Yan and Shunfeng Er. The statues were brought in from Taiwan and carried by Ma Chor Poh Deity Devotees Association members.
Many foreign tourists and backpackers staying at nearby hotels also took the chance to soak in the unique cultural occasion, snapping away with their cameras.
Australians Patrick and Dianne Stead caught up with the procession as it left the temple, and found the celebration a colourful experience.
A dragon dance captivates those lining the streets to witness the procession.
“Back home, we seldom see occasions like this celebrated on such a grand scale,” Dianne said, adding that they were at the right place at the right time.
The couple were exploring some eateries on Upper Penang Road when they saw the crowds gathering and decided to check it out.
Devotee Lim Peng Chew, a physics teacher from the Penang Free School, has made it a point to take part in processions celebrating the deity’s birth whenever possible.
Over the years, he has visited around 185 temples dedicated to Mazu across the region.
“I spend my holidays backpacking in search of Mazu temples both locally and abroad, and I visit Taiwan at least twice a year as there are many temples there.
Gan Hin Ming with a statue of Na Cha (Third Prince of the Gods).
“I believe in Mazu as it has helped me tremendously both spiritually and emotionally. It has made me a better person and changed my character,” Lim added.
The procession headed down Penang Road and then on to Chulia Street, before turning into Weld Quay. There, hundreds more de-votees joined the celebrations as most of the seaside communities prayed to Mazu.
It then proceeded through Jalan C.Y. Choy, Jalan Gurdwara, Lebuh Macallum, Lebuh McNair, Magazine Road, Penang Road, Transfer Road and Sri Bahari Road before returning to the Thean Hou Temple on Muntri Street, completing the 9km-long, four-hour procession.