Happy Birthday Tian Du Yuanshuai – the Deity of Music and Drama

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Today is the day to celebrate Tiandou Yuanshuai, the patron saint of music and drama.

In Taiwan, it is traditional in Taoist belief to celebrate the birthday of deities according to the lunar calendar date. Today was the birthday of Tian Du Yuanshuai (meaning Marshal ‘paddy field’ Du), who’s divine role is to be protector of Chinese regional opera. Many members of opera troupes in Taiwan revere him.

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According to the legend, Marshal Tian Du was abandoned in a paddy field as a baby.

Chinese mitten crabs came to his aid, saving his life by feeding him saliva through bubbles. For this reason, he is often depicted with a crab symbol on his forehead and his devotees will not eat crab out of respect.

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These celebrations for gods and deities last for the day of the birthday and are usually accompanied by the unmistakeable brash, shrill sound of the suona wind instrument; a sound which is punctuated by the resounding thud of firecrackers being set off en masse. A figurine of the deity who is enjoying their birthday will be carried through the street, sometimes firecrackers are set off under the figure and followers may deliberately expose themselves to the searing force of the firecrackers as a sign of their devotion.

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Taoist festivities certainly can’t be accused of being understated.

The faces of the temple-goers above were entirely blackened by ashes and the marked by the searing results of traditional explosives; all in the name of Tian Du Yuanshuai 田都元帥.

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The remnants of spent firecrackers are kicked away, then they start again. ‘Field Marshall Tiandou’, the deity of music and drama, is paraded down the road by different temple groups from around Taiwan.

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Some groups paint their faces in a traditional style; these followers are drawing on inspiration from the tiger, a powerful symbol in eastern mysticism and religion.

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Gongs, artworks and figures are marched through the open roads, still packed as ever with furious motorists and unruly scooterists.

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The parade is accompanied by the rasping sound of traditional Taoist music and every temple troupe interprets the traditions in their own way and brings something unique the the celebration.

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