' Blasting Lord Handan ' : Every year, communities across northern Taiwan celebrate the end of the traditional Lunar New Year celebrations with the peaceful spectacle of thousands of lanterns released into the night sky.

But the southern city of Taitung has its own to greet the occasion : a loud, fiery feat of endurance. On the 15th day of the first lunar month - this year, Feb 24 - volunteers let themselves be pelted with thousands of exploding firecrackers.

During the tradition, Blasting Lord Handan. [ also known as Bombing Lord Handan ], young men holding a banyan tree branch and wearing nothing but shorts, a headdress, protective goggles and a wet towel to shield their mouth and nose from the smoke, are paraded through the streets on a bamboo throne, portraying Lord Handan.

The firecrackers, wired together in bricks, explode around their bare flesh. Covered in welts and bloody scrapes, the volunteers find honor in their pain and hope to receive a blessing from the ordeal.

According to Taoist beliefs, Handan was originally a Shang dynasty general named Zhao Gongming, who, upon his death, became a god known for his ability to generate wealth and control lightning.

The tradition of blasting Handan arose, tradition holds, because of the god's dislike for the cold - the firecrackers are meant to bring him warmth and please him.

Even though the practice is specific to Taitung, it is believed to have arrived from Taiwan's west coast during the Chinese imperial era.

Under Japanese colonial rule [ 1895-1945 ], traditional Chinese religious expression was suppressed, and Handan worship was pushed into private homes.

Taitung revived the tradition in 1951, and it has quickly become the region's most important folk-religion ritual. Today, the spectacle takes place at Xuanwu Temple, which is dedicated to Handan, and can also be seen all around the streets.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks Mike Kai Chen and ''The New York Times''..


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