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Birthday of Pak Tai

Introduction

Pak Tai’s Birthday is on the third day of the third lunar month. Pak Tai is also called the Supreme Emperor of the North or Emperor Xuan Wu. Legends mention that Pak Tai is a water deity who takes charge of the North. In the past, most Taipa residents were fishermen. They highly adored Pak Tai who governed various bodies of water, and built a Pak Tai Temple in Taipa, which is the only temple dedicated to Pak Tai in Macao. The tradition of celebrating Pak Tai’s Birthday is also practiced nowadays. Every year on his birthday, the residents hold a big event in front of the temple with programs lasted for consecutive nights, including Cantonese Opera performances, worship with incenses and so on in a joyful atmosphere.


Origin

Early from the Xia and Shang Dynasties (2070-1046 B.C.), the ancient Chinese astronomers had divided the configurations of stars into twenty-eight constellations known as the ‘Twenty-eight Mansions.’

 

The twenty-eight constellations were recorded in Rites of Zhou during the Spring and Autumn Dynasties and Warring States Period. The constellations were later further divided into four regions with each assigned a power animal. The four power animals are called “Four Divine Creatures” or “Four Symbols”: Azure Dragon of the East, Vermilion Bird of the South, White Tiger of the West and Black Tortoise of the North. 

The Azure Dragon, also known as “Green Dragon” in Chinese, governs the seven mansions of the moon in the East: Horn, Neck, Root, Room, Heart, Tail and Winnowing Basket. The White Tiger governs the seven mansions in the West: Legs, Bond, Stomach, Hairy Head, Net Turtle Beak and Three Stars. The Vermilion Bird, also known as “Phoenix”, governs the seven mansions in the South: Well, Ghost, Willow, Star, Extended Net, Wings and Chariot. The Black Tortoise, also called “Xuan Wu”, governs Dipper, Ox, Girl, Emptiness, Rooftop, Encampment and Wall in the North, in which Xuan Wu was later known as Pak Tai. 

Why he is called “Xuan Wu”? The origin of the name “Xuan Wu” was recorded in Chuci Buzhu written by Hong Xingzu in the Song Dynasty: his position of north made him called Xuan, and his scale and armor made him called Wu. In Rhapsody on Contemplating the Mystery written by Zhang Heng in the Eastern Han Dynasty, Xuan Wu was described as “a snake coiling around the tortoise.” Later, according to Li Shan’s depiction, Xuan Wu was a combination of a tortoise and a snake.

In the ancient times, Xuan Wu was regarded as the God of North and many Chinese legends were created. For example, some said he was the prince in Chinese who was born with natural bravery. He had ever traveled across the East China Sea and met a god who gave him a sword. Afterwards, Xuan Wu went to Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province and studied Taoism for forty-two years. He eventually became immortal and was well-known in the North. Therefore, he was given the name “Xuan Wu” or “the Dark Lord of North.”

Another legend is that there was once a big tortoise in the North Sea, which had been regarded as the pivot of the Mount  Penglai. With its exceptional intelligence and studies on Taoism for years, the big tortoise finally attained the state of enlightenment. Later, Taoists named the tortoise Xuan Wu as “Pak Tai” in short, and  sometimes called the “Black Warrior of the North.” Besides, Xuan Wu has many different titles such as Xuan Tian Shang Di (literally means Supreme Emperor of the Northern Heaven or the Mysterious Heaven) and Shang Di Gong (literally means Emperor Xuan Wu) and so on. The folks have gradually personified Xuan Wu. Nowadays, we can see the statue of the personified Pak Tai usually has a tortoise and a snake under his feet in temples.

Pak Tai is the God of North. Why the Guangdong people in South China, especially those living in the Pearl River Delta Region place great importance to Pak Tai’s Birthday? The reason is that Pak Tai is not only the God of North, but also one of the Gods who governs water, and thus is known as the “God of Water.” Xuan Wu’s name was mentioned in one of the volumes of Wang Liang Chuan in Book of the Later Han: Xuan Wu is the name of the God of Water. Being the water deity, Xuan Wu has been widely worshiped in the Guangdong Province where it is surrounded by many rivers and lakes. People there worship Pak Tai to pray for peace and avoiding calamities in the waters.

Foshan Temple is the most famous Pak Tai temple in the Guangdong Province. In tradition, a large-scale ritual is held to celebrate Pak Tai’s Birthday every year. The most prosperous event was held in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which is called “Zhong San Hui.” According to Foshan Loyalty Township, Zhong San Hui was a big event to celebrate Pak Tai’s Birthday. On that day, the local residents would go to the temple to worship and bow to Pak Tai with hands clasped, lanes were festooned with colorful adornments, Chinese operas were performed, and drum sounds could be heard miles away.

During the celebration, there are activities including worshipping Pak Tai, the procession of Pak Tai’s statue, Chinese opera performance and lighting big firecrackers. Worship with hands clasped is a Taoist worship ritual. When the ritual is completed, some strong men will carry the Pak Tai statue from the temple and start the procession which is a formal activity in the past. The Government officials will decide the route of the procession and announce it to the Foshan residents. The places for the route must be cleaned up with wayside pavilions set up, acting  as a metaphor of sheltering Pak Tai. Grand banquets should be well arranged along the route as a feast for Pak Tai in order to show respect to him. 

There is also a strict regulation for the parade: only gentry and the well-dressed people are allowed to participate in the parade; only the palanquin made in the Kun Iam Temple and the dance lion of the Yue Fei Temple are allowed to follow the parade, whereas no other fire baskets and lion dance team provided by unauthorized private associations could participate in the parade. Lighting firecrackers is allowed only when the parade has gone far. The procession ended when the parade was back to the Pak Tai Temple. At that time, a Chinese opera performance would be on show forthwith at a bamboo-shed theater near the temple as a thanksgiving ritual to Pak Tai. Meanwhile, a Treasure Pot Banquet will be offered to thousands of officials and citizens, which symbolizes togetherness.

On the second day of the ceremony, there is a ritual of setting off large firecrackers for Pak Tai. It is said that the first lit firecracker will bring good luck to people in the coming year, so everyone will rush to be the first to light it.

 

 

Birthday of Pak Tai

Pak Tai’s Birthday is on the third day of the third lunar month. Pak Tai is also called the Supreme Emperor of the North or Emperor Xuan Wu. Legends mention that Pak Tai is a water deity who takes charge of the North. In the past, most Taipa residents were fishermen. They highly adored Pak Tai who governed various bodies of water, and built a Pak Tai Temple in Taipa, which is the only temple dedicated to Pak Tai in Macao. The tradition of celebrating Pak Tai’s Birthday is also practiced nowadays. Every year on his birthday, the residents hold a big event in front of the temple with programs lasted for consecutive nights, including Cantonese Opera performances, worship with incenses and so on in a joyful atmosphere.