This shrine shines as a hot spot, even in the cold rain

Updated: 2012-02-07 11:07

By Lin Qi (China Daily)

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XIAMEN, Fujian - Drizzling cold on the first day of the Lunar New Year didn't stop local and international Buddhists from visiting Nanputuo Temple in the coastal city.

"There were swarms of pilgrims waiting outside when we opened the gate at 3 am that day," Dewen, a monk at the temple, says.

"There were even more people the same day last year, when it was warmer and wasn't raining."

Nanputuo was established in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). The "Temple of 1,000 Years" has long been a place of pilgrimage for Southeast Asian Buddhists and overseas Chinese in the region.

Dewen says the temple receives about 30,000 people a day, while the average surged to more than 100,000 every day from Jan 23-27, the first five days of Spring Festival.

"We cancelled ticket sales in April," he says.

"So we don't have the exact figure of Spring Festival visitors. But I believe more people are coming to the temple than last year."

He explains many aren't Buddhists but rather come to pray for a safe year in accordance with the local convention of baibai (making obeisance to deities).

Guo Yanyu, 25, has observed this Spring Festival routine since childhood.

"When I was a kid, my parents told me to be quiet and not joke around in the temple," the office worker says.

"I prayed for high scores at school. Now I ask for good work evaluations. But there's one wish that will never change - my family's safety and health."

Many visitors are tourists who come after wandering the neighboring Xiamen University campus.

Parents - religious or not - use the visit to lecture their children on the essence of Buddhism - kindness and mercy.

The temple used to exist in a haze of thick incense smoke. But new rules to protect wooden structures allow every visitor to light only one stick of incense in vessels outside the main compound.

A volunteer team of 500 to 600 Buddhists answers visitors' questions and preserves order.