Listen to the Voiceless Glory!


Prayers for Fortune—Happiness, Peace and Good Luck on the Doorstep  


Evidence of such auspicious decorations can be seen at the Tainan City God Temple and the Lugang Longshan Temple (Lukang Lungshan Temple). The former features two decorative front walls serving as a medium through which supplications for good fortune are conveyed to Heaven. Upon entering the latter, one’s attention is caught by a series of stone posts running along the sides of the inner court beyond the arched gateway. The posts are adorned with eighteen luohan (arhats, Buddhist saints) and four children holding auspicious objects including a banner, ball, lance and chime. On the bottom surfaces one finds simple carved patterns which likewise bear auspicious connotations.
bidu (carved stone wall)
A bidu, or carved stone wall, is constructed following a metaphorical approach. Skilled craftsmen often relate the wall surface to a human body, dividing it into five sections, each of which is called a du (wall). The five sections, from top to bottom are dingdu (head), shendu (body), yaodu (waist), qundu (skirt) and guitai jiao (foot). For example, the shendu sections flanking the entrance of the front hall of the Lugang Longshan Temple are carved with a blue dragon and a white tiger respectively, hence the name “Dragon-Tiger Du.” The qundu section of the two walls are known as “Qilin Du”, for the male qi appears under the dragon and the female lin appears under the tiger.
Two martial figures mounted on the wall—one holding a banner and ball and the other carrying a lance and chime plate—symbolizing a prayer for good fortune.
(Source: Tainan Cultural Heritage Digital Archives Program)
When Heaven and Earth Are in Harmony, All Beings Prosper
Paired columns depicting dragons, an imposing decoration used to attract worshippers and pilgrims, are often seen in the front halls or main halls of Taiwan’s temples. Like the fearsome stone lions at the gateway, these fiercely carved stone dragons—bodies writhing, flashing their teeth and claws—are common adornments that fill the symbolic role of welcoming visitors to the temple.
But why do most carved columns feature dragons rather than, say, phoenixes or qilin? Dragons, the ancient auspicious beasts born from fantasy, are much loved for their association with imperial authority and hence are used as designs on columns to symbolize worshippers’ piety toward the gods.
One such example are the cast copper dragon columns—the only ones in Taiwan—supporting the front hall of Lungshan Temple in Monga (today’s Wanhua), Taipei. Besides the pair of dragon columns, the temple also features a pair of dragon and phoenix columns and a pair of flower and bird columns in its central hall. The dragon and phoenix pair are decorated with a dragon and a phoenix surrounded by other beasts and human figures. The dragon is believed to be have the cosmic essence and possess the good qualities of all creatures; the phoenix, king of the birds, is admired for its divine beauty and serene dignity. The two mythical beasts carved on the columns imply the expression, “dragon and phoenix bring good fortune,” (used to describe an auspicious event). The pair of flower and bird columns, each encircled by an old plum tree with peonies and birds nestled among its branches and sprigs, imply the idiom, “a hundred birds at the court of the phoenix,” (refering to great luck or fortune). 
Dragon columns came into existence in AD 582, the second year of the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (era name: Kaihuang). Since then they have evolved with time in terms of size, style and materials used. Earlier dragon columns were comparatively small in size and rough in appearance. Over time they developed into increasingly taller, carved works with highly intricate designs.
For instance, the pairs of dragon columns found in the front hall, worship hall and rear hall of Lugang Longshan Temple are carved in the different decorative styles of their respective epochs. The front hall contains two granite dragon columns, each featuring an openwork carving of a single dragon coiling around the cylindrical pillar with protruding claws and decorated with cloud and mountain designs. Flanking the dragons on each side are five flying cranes in relief, each carved in clear, graceful, lifelike lines. The cranes and dragon are reference to the phrase, “ten completes, ten perfections,” (meaning perfect and complete in every way). The right-hand column bears a dragon descending amidst the clouds. One crane carries a lingzhi mushroom in its mouth, symbolizing “long life and happiness.” The left column shows a dragon soaring upward toward the clouds. These two columns form a combination known as “Heaven Upended Earth Overturned,” (an expression to describe great changes or chaos) or “Qian and Kun in Harmony” (Qian and Kun referring to Heaven and Earth). Together, they symbolize a state of harmony between the Heavens and Earth in which all beings can flourish.
The artistic style of the columns and related historical documents suggest that these dragon columns were added during restoration work carried out at Lugang Longshan Temple in the eleventh year of Emperor Daoguang (AD 1831). Rendered in careful, meticulous detail, the dragons have an air of calm and aristocratic reserve about them. Typical of the period, the columns depict the dragons with their heads held high, necks curved and chests proud. Great energy can be sensed within their twisting bodies and S-shaped tails, and yet their refined contours flow like water, as though extruded in movement, imparting a gentle elegance to their forms and postures. 
A stone dragon, with its tail raised above its head, twists around a front column at the Tainan City God Temple.
(Source: Tainan Cultural Heritage Digital Archives Program)
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