Lunar New Year of the Water Snake - Nan Tien Temple, Wollongong NSW
Located about 80km south of the Sydney Harbour Bridge lies the Buddhist temple complex of Nan Tien (or Southern Heaven), which on most days is a haven and refuge for mediation, prayer and devotion. On festive days, the place transforms to a buzz, with visitors coming from all over and the hill slope site plays host to families, backpackers, locals and tourists. Such an occasion was the first day of the current Lunar New Year. I reside a mere fifteen minutes drive down the main highway and on a Sunday morning, we took the opportunity to check out a Taiwanese version of the Spring Festival. Above, artificial trees with glitter and giant sized puppet children greet visitors as they step on to the plaza at the upper levels of the complex leading tot he Five Buddhas shrine hall.
Good omens , lucky directions and auspicious sayings are emphasised to commence the day -and therefore year - right. There were miniature dance lions on display, cooling herbal teas served and vegetarian food stalls offering a variety of dishes from steamed to deep fried. Below, glutinous rice dumplings, packed with beans and ingredients which are non-meat, are neatly wrapped and held by tightly secured raffia strings. These dumplings are usually associated with the Dragon Boat Festival in mid-June but were seen sold at one of the food stalls lined up along the undercover passage corridors of the temple.
Sea cucumber, mushrooms and other vegetarian delights ('su" in Mandarin) are being stirred and kept warm by a volunteer on the most celebrated of Chinese cultural festive days. (photo above) The sky was Aussie shiny blue and the crowds were streaming in, first in vehicles and then later, mostly by foot. There were lion dance performances by members of martial arts schools and many lanterns adorned the ceilings of buildings, creating a merry sight of red, round and delight.
The main banner message focused on going for "unwavering advancement, despite life's twists and turns - this can lead to the attainment of happiness and wisdom."
Sweetness is the key - this was represented by dessert on skewers, pickled fruits with a sugary coat. (photo below). Deep fried pastry (above picture) was articulated in various shapes and flavours, but all vegetarian based. In Taiwan, as many ten percent of the population practice vegetarianism as part of their regular food intake and this has resulted in a mature and strict food labeling system for such cuisine in the island.
The Nan Tien Temple is surrounded by the escarpment of the Illawarra area, is located in a suburb called Berkeley and is in close proximity to the coastal waters of the Tasman Sea near to Shellharbour and Port Kembla in New South Wales. It is one of the several branches of the Fokuangshan group around the world. Taiwanese vegetarianism forgo the eating of garlic, leeks and onions, as such foods are believed to unnecessarily arouse extreme human emotions. There are landscaped gardens, a lodge and a small museum on the grounds - and across the main highway, is a gradually developing university campus offering both religious and non-religious courses and degrees under the banner of the Nan Tien Institute.