Taiwan Lantern Festival: Wonderous show of lights and fireworks

Yunlin (Taiwan), Feb 18 (IANS) Celebrated on the first full-moon night of the Lunar Year, the Lantern Festival is regarded as one of Taiwan’s biggest festivals. Much like the biggest Hindu festival of lights — Diwali — people from all religions in Taiwan illuminate their homes using different types of lanterns and colourful bulbs to observe the biggest show of lights and fireworks on the island.

The origin of the Lantern Festival in this part of the world goes back thousands of years. It is believed to have been started by an emperor of the mighty Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.). The emperor, an ardent follower of Lord Buddha, had asked people to exhibit lights on the 15th night of the first month of every Lunar year to pay their respects to the Lord.

This wonderful festival was almost forgotten in the late 1980s. Later, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau resumed it in a new way and from there on, it started gaining huge popularity. The first modern Lantern Festival was held in Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in 1990. For over a decade, it continued it’s charm at Taipei and in 2001, was shifted to the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

‘The main lantern festival is held in different counties and this year, Yunlin county, which is located in the central part of Taiwan’, said Noel Saxena, Country Head, Taiwan Tourism, Representative Office in India.

The Lantern Festival was inaugurated on February 11 and will continue till February 19. Since this year’s theme is ‘Friendly Earth, Diverse Cultures’, the focus is on an eco-friendly approach and the varied traditions, cultures, and beliefs of Taiwan.

‘This year’s festival showcased the cultures of new immigrants as well as traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry which originated in this southern Taiwan county,’ Esther Chen of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau told IANS.

President Tsai Ing-wen, Premier Lin Chuan and Yunlin Magistrate Lee Chin-yung lit the central theme lantern, a 23-meter high phoenix, symbolising the ushering in of a new era. Tsai said she was happy to see that despite the recent cold spell, people were eager to attend the festival. She was glad that people from all across the world were there to witness the charm of this festive gala.

The main festival took place at the 50-hectare lantern area in Huwei township.

‘With more than 3,000 lanterns in a combined area of 50 hectares, it is the largest lantern festival in Yunlin’s history and the largest in Taiwan for many years. The Tourism Bureau began in 1990 in Taipei and has rotated through counties since 2001. And it’s gaining popularity worldwide very fast”, said Saxena.

While Yunlin featured light-themes and decorated areas, Yanshui grabbed everyone’s attention with its cacophony of fireworks, which lasted almost five hours. The Lantern Festival in Yanshui is called the ‘Beehive Fireworks Festival.

It is part of the main Lantern Festival, but is completely out of the world thing for those who witness it for first time. It is more of tradition rather than celebration. Traditionally, the idea of being hit by fireworks is referred to as an act that brings one good luck for the new year. For those who follow religious rituals, it is an activity that helps them endure the pain to exhibit their spiritual determination.

‘If you wish to be part of it, you have to cover yourself with a fire-proof jacket and helmet to face rockets and crackers on your body coming towards you from all directions. It’s a completely different experience for the first timer’s but it is a ritual for the locals. This adds to the charm of the Lantern Festival,” Chen explained.

(Jayant Singh was in Yunlin at the invitation of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. He can be contated at jayant.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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