For the casual observer, once you’ve seen a few temples in Taiwan they all start looking similar. Intricate carvings, wall and ceiling paintings, statues of ferocious warriors and gentle deities – I started getting used to them. Obviously, once one starts studying Taiwanese worship and religion, different temples take on different meanings and one can appreciate them more, but I’m not there yet. So, now I generally drive by them without marvelling at these conspicuous looking structures in the otherwise drab small town landscape.
That is until I drove by this fierce looking specimen:
Stretching up 156 feet, he looks serious (-ly ready to kick some ass)! This temple needed to be checked out. Upon first glance, I was positive that it must be dedicated to Guan Yu (deified as Guan Gong) – a ferocious god. Guan Yu was a general in ancient China who later became a God representing unrelenting courage, loyalty and righteous justice. Sort of cross between Mars and Athena. Or Jesus, minus the mercy, in full plate armour waving around a two handed sword.
Anyway, Guan Gong looks something like this:
As you can see, Guan Gong is also a big, red angry god with a black beard. So it’s easy to confuse the 2. Upon closer inspection though, it’s evident that while Guan Gong is sporting a fearsome halberd in his right hand, the god in the first picture has something that looks like corn or bananas.
Turns out that this temple is dedicated to the great emperor Shennong – also known as the King of five grains. He is credited with teaching the Chinese agriculture and coming up with all the tools needed to farm. He’s a farming god.
Talk about appearances being decieving!!
The entrance looks grand and majestic:
So much so that it actually covers the gigantic statue of Shennong. The first floor of the temple contains the “altar” devoted to this god of produce and grain:
It’s really hard to see this red god and think of anything other than war. Farming and growing food is the last thing I’d think of. Like all temples, artwork covers every inch of the building. Of note are the paintings on the doors:
and sort of tower things made out of pop cans (I have no idea what the significance of this is):
On this particular day, there happened to be something special going on. People had prepared a lot of food, and it was open to the public for consumption in the temple. I think there was some sort of god-moving ceremony or something, but not totally sure. Food was pretty good though, especially the dessert – which was sweet beans with a doughy type bread thing in a syrup:
Which I followed up with rice and braised pork:
And then some fried noodles:
Figures they would feed you in a farming god’s temple!
Even though the temple is dedicated to Shennong, the 2nd and 3rd floors paid tribute to other gods – this is common in Taiwan. One god rules, but others are acknowledged. In this case, the second floor was devoted to Matsu (a very popular god in Taiwan – affiliated with the oceans:
And the third floor was for Gautama Buddha:
When we got to the very top, we got a closer look at Shennong. Up close and personal, he was MASSIVE:
And it is corn that he’s holding.
The rest of the temple was pretty status quo, so we went back down and left. If you ever approach Zhunan/Toufen from the on a train, you will see Shennong’s non-smiling mug (or big red back – depending on direction) staring as you approach, you can’t miss it. This temple is very close to the train station on the Toufen side (east) of the tracks.
I had to take a parting shot as we drove away: