Official God of War Temple (Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple)
Official God of War Temple (Sì Diǎn Wǔ Miào 祀典武廟)
The Official God of War Temple is the one with the long, red-ochre wall that’s across from Chikan Lou. That’s the feature that I always think of when it comes to this temple. It’s rare to have the side of a temple fully exposed, and few of them have so nice a profile. This temple was originally called Dàguāndì Temple, named after the diety Guān Dì (關帝; also called Guān Gōng 關公 or Guān Yǔ 關羽), who is the patron saint of soldiers. In early times, Guan Di was the only diety worshipped here. That is why the building is sometimes called the God of War Temple. Official government rituals were also performed here, thus the temple is also called the Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple.
Guan Di is one of the most widely worshipped deities in both Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, and even makes a splash into Confucianism. He was a legendary hero of the Three Kingdoms Period, and is one of the principal characters in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is often thought he is the most fictionalized character in the book, so much of his historical narrative is blurred by fiction. In both fact and fiction, he served as a general to Liu Bei and was part of Liu Bei’s triumvirate brotherhood. In Taoist belief he is the God of War and the main defender against demons. The title “God of War” is a little deceptive, though. He is not perceived as someone who blesses soldiers going into battle so much as those who uphold brotherhood and righteousness. In Buddhism he is a protector of temples and dharma. He was also known for administrative and accounting abilities, and so he is the diety of business, righteousness, and vanquisher of demons all rolled into one. He also wrote about Confucianism and is worshipped by students who are preparing for exams.
Not only is Guan Di one of the most commonly worshipped deities, but his image is also very common. He is often depicted with a very long beard, heavy stature and puffed-up chest. He is often dressed in armor and carries a guān dāo (關刀), which is a type of Chinese polearm that he allegedly invented. Many color images show him with a red face.
The God of War Temple is one of the oldest and most unique temples in the country. There’s debate about when it was actually built, but by most accounts it was built in 1665 during the early days of the Zheng era. As I have already said, the exposed wall on Yongfu Street is a distinct feature. It is called a horseback wall because its shape mimics a rider on horseback. It supports five different styles of roofs including the decorative swallows tail style. All of this conforms to the style of “Southern Min” temples in Fujian Province during the Ming Dynasty. Unlike most temples in Tainan, the layout of this temple is not symmetrical. While most temples have a main hall and then smaller shrines flanking it on either side, the temple compound for the God of War Temple extends a bit to the rear and greatly to the left of the main hall with only the street to the right of it.
Much of the main hall is dedicated to the worship of Guan Di. The main hall houses the statue of Guan Di that was brought from Fujian Province by the relatives of the Prince of Ningjing, making the statue at least as old as the temple itself. On either side of the Guan Di statue are nicely rendered statues of Guan Di’s son on the right and his body guard on the left. The entrance to the main hall has an unusually high threshhold in order to intimidate women. This measure was taken because women were once banned from the temple. A number of animal carvings also grace the top of the threshhold along with lotus decorations in the beams that conceal the studs.
Throughout the rest of the compound are shrines dedicated to Guan Yin, Yue Lao, and the five examination gods. While Guan Yin is normally the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, she is also found in Taoist temples such as this one. This Guan Yin statue is particularly famous due to the facial expression. Single people often visit the Yue Lao shrine to pray for luck in finding a suitable partner. No doubt there are also many mothers praying for their daughters and sons here. The five examination gods help students with their exams.
The general layout the temple compound is a real treat, and probably my favorite feature of this temple. It winds through outdoor passageways and up and down stairs. Behind the Guan Yin shrine is a quiet and peaceful courtyard with a fish pond and a 300 year old plum tree. It would be comfortable to sit and reflect here for hours.
Other tourist sites are in the vacinity. Chikan Lou is just behind the temple. A small alley to the left of the temple’s entrance leads directly to the Grand Matsu Temple. Directly across Yongfu road is a small old shrine dedicated to the horse god. Most Guan Di temples have a horse-god temple associated with them, and this one is just across the street.
Location: No.229 Yongfu Road (永福路), Sec. 2, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan