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Passing down of dragon craft

Temple Hall

  Taiwan’s temple buildings are the palaces for craftsmen to show their craft talent and culture inheritance. The dragon image representations that exhibit respective creativities under the traditional cultural norms are often the big focuses and admired by the decedents greatly. Among these abundant creations, we can appreciate these priceless cultural assets through the following introductions.


(1)Two dragon guardsIn the appearance of temples in Taiwan, nothing draws more attention than the rooftop decorations. The complicated rooftop decorations are almost the biggest highlights of Taiwan’s temples, which is also the main visual impression on people generally. Among the numerous temple rooftop decorations, the main ridge is the key point of presentation where the dragon representation subjects often adopt the “two dragons grabbing a ball”, “two dragons protecting a pagoda” and “two dragons paying homage to three deities”. The main functions are first for warding off evil spirits, guarding and praying for peace and then for decoration. Affected by Taoism, the position of “Azure Dragon” in the Four Spirit Beasts (Azure Dragon, White Tiger, Vermilion Bird and Black Tortoise/turtle) is elevated to the head of Four Spirit Beasts. It is often found at the two ends of roof ridge of a palace and temple in the form of two dragons guarding the sacred hall space. Also, azure represents fierceness and strong guarding ability. It is an important guardian deity.

Dragon Color Implication (Prepared by Dragon Seekers)

Color Significance Explanation
Yellow Dragon Yellow is the formal color in China, being the most sacred color t is easily seen in the temples (such as Jade Emperor and Emperor Sanqing) worshipping the deity of high person.
Blue Dragon It means the auspicious sign. It represents harmony, peace and soothingness.
Azure Dragon It means the fiercest. Affected by Taoism, it is usually used as the symbol of guarding and often appears in the form of two dragons on the temple rooftop or the right and left wall of Sanchuan Hall (front hall of temple) as the Left Azure Dragon and Right White Tiger acting another role symbolizing the door deity.

▲ Yellow Dragon/Rear Hall of Fenyuan Baozang Temple Mainly Worshipping Jade Emperor(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Blue Dragon(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Azure Dragon(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)

Subject Implication Represented by Two Dragons (Prepared by Dragon Seekers)

Subject Treasure Guarded Explanation

Two dragons grabbing a ball/ two dragons paying homage to the sun

Dragon ball/sun The dragon ball or the sun represents completeness, prosperity as well as life and growth in nature. Another meaning is praying for the booming pilgrimage of temple. Since the dragon ball/sun belongs to the fire element, it needs to be configured with the two dragons belonging to the water element for reconciliation, which conforms to the Chinese Yin and Yang reconciliation theory and makes the traditional philosophy perfect.
Two dragons protecting a pagoda Pagoda The pagoda here represents the merits and virtues and the two dragons paying homage to the pagoda has the meaning of virtue cultivation and filial piety. The pagoda usually has seven or nine stories. The seven-story allusion is from the statement of “saving a human life is better than building a seven-story pagoda”; and the nine-story represents the main deity of a higher level.
Two dragons paying homage to three deities Three deities The three deities of Deity of Good Fortune, Deity of Prosperity and Deity of Longevity are the most commonly seen auspicious deities in the traditional folk custom of Han people, which are “heavenly official bestowing blessing”, “Deity of Prosperity bestowing wealth” and “Deity of Longevity increasing longevity” respectively. Most people in Taiwan change to present them in the three deities of Deity of Wealth, Deity of Descendants and Deity of Longevity, having the auspicious significance of bestowing blessings to believers.

▲ Figure 2_4_1_1 :Two Dragons Paying Homage to the Sun(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_1_2 :Two Dragons Protecting a pagoda(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)
▲ Figure 2_4_1_3 :Two dragons paying homage to three deities(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_1_4 :

Three deities of Deity of Wealth, Deity of Descendants and Deity of Longevity

Middle: Deity of Wealth bringing wealth (Literal Deity of Wealth holding a Ruyi in hands)

Left: Deity of Decedents sending a son (in the ancient landlord dress and holding a baby in hands)

Right: Deity of Longevity holding a longevity peach in both hands (Deity of Longevity of North Pole/a grey-hair old man holding a longevity peach in both hands)

(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)

(2)ChiwenThe fish dragon whose dragon head and fish tail can be seen even from both sides of roof ridge is also called Chiwen. In the legends, it can curl up its tail to summon the rain as well as swallow fire and spit water, possessing the fire extinguishing and ill fortune removing ability. Through several dynasties, some variants of it varying in form have been produced. The kind having only the dragon head exposed and the body hidden in the roof ridge is called ridge-swallowing shape and Chiwen swallowing ridge as well. Therefore, both the tail-curling fish dragon in standing position and the dragon animal swallowing (biting) roof ridge are Chiwen.

▲ Figure 2_4_1_5 :Tail-curling fish dragon/Chiwen(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_1_6 :Ridge-swallowing fish dragon/ChiwenSource: Photo by Dragon Seekers)
▲ Figure 2_4_1_7 :Mouth-opening fish dragon/Chiwen(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_1_8 :Ridge-biting fish dragon/Chiwen(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)



(1)Dragon door deityIt is also the key point of temple dragon culture representation. Most of them are presented by way of painting and a small part of them are wood carved or sculptured works. It can be divided into the two kinds of dragon deity or people deity. Because the dragon is the representative of the higher class, the dragon door deities that can only be seen in the imperial-level temples are very rare. However, it is also discovered during the surveys that the high person of deity of some imperial-level temple door deities are presented with the dragon ornamentations of people deity’s clothes (civil officer and military officer) and hats.

▲ Figure 2_4_2_1 :Changhua Nanyao Temple Dragon Door Deities(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_2_2 :Four-claw Golden Dragon (Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)

(2)Dragon and tiger wall (wall engraving) :Affected by Taoism, the Azure Dragon and White Tiger in the Direction deities of Four Spirit Beasts (Azure Dragon, White Tiger, Vermilion Bird and Black Tortoise/Turtle) went to guard the holy space of temple’s front hall and also acted as the role of door deity. Since the direction of temple is usually determined according to the actual circumstances, it cannot be in the east-west direction always. Therefore, the Azure Dragon representing the east and White Tiger representing the west were changed to be differentiated by the left and right, which is the origin of Left Azure Dragon and Right White Tiger. Another layer of significance is to inform the moving direction where the left-side gate is the dragon gate and the right-side gate is the tiger gate. Coming in through the dragon gate symbolizing the auspicious sign and praying for peace that brings hope inside; and going out through the tiger gate symbolizing the ill fortune and disaster removing that takes away the misfortune. From the modern management point of view, maintaining people in the same moving lines by letting them come in from the left and go out from the right also makes sense in maintaining the traffic safety.

▲ Figure 2_4_2_3:Dragon and Tiger Wall/Chiayi Puzi Peitian Temple(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)  

(3)Chi TigerIt is also called Kui Dragon, being a dragon not a tiger. Because the emperors of Song Dynasty forbade the civilians to use the dragon ornamentations, the horn and scale free transformed dragon having the function of praying for blessing and warding off evil spirits was created. Welcoming guests at doorway with the “Chi-Tiger-Surrounded Incense Burner ” totem is a characteristic in Taiwan’s temples. The “Chi Tiger Incense Burner” with the incense burner patterns composed of several Chi Dragons is homophonic with “pray for blessing and prosperity”, having the meaning of praying for blessing and prosperity. Besides, the adoption of Chi Tiger totems on the window and counterfort is the unique skill of carpentry craftsmen in Taiwan and well worth savoring.

▲ Figure 2_4_2_4:Chi-Tiger-Surrounded Incense Burner /Stone Window of Sanxia Zushi Temple(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_2_5:Chi Tiger Arch/Yunlin Beigang Chaotian Temple(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)

(4)Dragon headOften appearing in the dragon head form and also known as “Chi head”, it is a holy animal decorated at the water outlet and often seen at the eave underneath, pond and bridge. It likes to drink water and has the functions of adjusting water level and preventing flood disasters. It is discovered during the surveys that some dragon heads have the actual drainage function and some are only decorative wooden or bonded clay sculptures.


▲ Figure 2_4_2_6:Wood Carved Dragon Head/Changhua Temple of Confucius(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_2_7:Stone Carved Dragon Head/Tainan Grand Matsu Temple(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)


3、Before the Hall

Imperial Road Cloud DragonIn addition, a piece of Imperial Road Stone chiseled and carved with coiling dragon ornamentations, also known to the civilians as the “palace stone” or “Xie Kui”, is usually placed in the middle section of the steps right in front of the temple hall to imitate the Cloud Dragon Imperial Road of ancient palace. It is the dedicated access for the deities and symbolizes the position and authority power of deities.


▲ Figure 2_4_3_1:Imperial Road Cloud Dragon/ Fenyuan Baozang Temple(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)


4、Inside the Hall

(1)Dragon columnAnyone stepping in the temple hall would set eyes on the dragon columns on both sides. The high-cost dragon columns are the most important temple works of art and therefore represent the temple’s financial resources. The dragon on the dragon column is also known as the coiling dragon, referring to the dragon not going to heaven and therefore coiling around the column. The dragon column can not only hold up the grand building of the whole temple; the dragon coiling and flying posture also means an auspicious sign of welcoming. Although the modern dragon column has changed from the simple form of one dragon for one column to two or more dragons for one column, the dragon column’s modelling and carving and chiseling methods cover from the practicability of plain supports to the carving skills particular about the artistic creation spirit and the pursuit of numerous and complicated models. Therefore, one can have a glimpse of the overall economic development history in Taiwan by appreciating the dragon columns.

Single-dragon Column

( Photo by Dragon Seekers)

Double-dragon Column

( Photo by Dragon Seekers)

Multi-dragon Column1

( Photo by Dragon Seekers)

Multi-dragon Column2

( Photo by Dragon Seekers)

(2)Ao Dragon: The “Ao fish” or “flying dragon” shaped wood carvings are usually seen at the “inserted gusset” (sparrow brace) between the hypostyle columns at the four points and the through beam in the temple hall, being a focus in the large timber construction of temple that attracts the most attention. The “Ao fish” and “Chiwen” are both a form of fish dragon, another variance of dragon. The allusion of dragon head and fish body is from the “carps jumping over the dragon gate”. In the ancient legends, the carp in the Yellow River could become a dragon if jumped over the dragon gate. The Ao fish is the carp having jumped over the “dragon gate” and in the process of transformation into a dragon when it is not in the shape of dragon completely yet with only the fish head changed to an Ao’s head. Having the fire swallowing and ill fortune removing functions, Ao Dragon plays an indispensable role in Taiwan’s temples.  

▲ Figure 2_4_4_3:Ao Dragon on the inserted gusset, one of dragon’s nine sons, another form of fish dragon (Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers) ▲ Figure 2_4_4_4:Ao Dragon, in addition to the fish tail, another characteristic is that it has not feet but fins(Source: Photo by Dragon Seekers)


Trace of Dragons in Changhua - Meet the Dragon through Time  / Team:Dragon Seekers
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