Taipei, Oct 27: The fusion of two activities — siglling against bandits and sending up wishes and prayers during the Chinese New Year — has resulted in tourists flying lanterns to the Gods in Shifen village in Taiwan. Lined up along the rrow gauge railway track in the mountainous Shifen village in the Pingxi district near Taipei are shops selling huge single- or four-colour paper lanterns. Hundreds of tourists buy these lanterns (shaped like a big inverted basket) and pen down their wishes/requests to the Gods. A few moments later, after the shopkeeper lights up the lantern’s fuel sheets (thick paper dipped in diesel), the tourists let go of the lanterns which slowly rise high up into the skies. “At night the lit lanterns look like big fireflies, with the mountains in the background,” Francis Hu, a Taiwan Tourism Bureau authorised tourist guide said.
According to tourist literature, in the 19th century, when the settlements first came up, life was relatively peaceful and prosperous – only occasiolly disturbed by bandits who raided the villages soon after harvest. To avoid the bandits, the Shifen villagers retreated to the mountains with their farm produce. A few days later a scout would be sent to the village to survey the area for the presence of bandits. He would send up a lantern siglling that the area was safe and free of bandits for the villagers to return.
As for the history of the sky lanterns, it is said that they were closely associated with Chinese statesman Zhuge Liang who apparently used to send up sky lanterns as military sigls and also to confuse the enemy’s readings of celestial bodies.
Tourist guide Hu said that during the Chinese New Year, people used to write their wishes/prayers on a lantern at their homes. But this lantern was not sent up into the skies. “Over a period of time, the practice of writing down wishes on lanterns and sending them up got fused, which is now a great tourist attraction,” Hu added.
“Please let me ace my exams,” a student sent her prayer to her God through a lantern. Now, the lantern festival forms a part of the New Year celebrations when several thousand people gather at Shifen village to send up their lanterns. “We sell around 20 lanterns per day. We make the lanterns ourselves while the paper is sourced from outside,” lantern-seller Liad Jiahuei said. (IANS)