Next Tuesday, 22 May 2018, is the annual holiday celebrating the Buddha’s birthday. What not many people are aware of is that the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar year celebrates the feast day of Tam Kung, a Taoist deity widely worshipped in Macau and Hong Kong. Tam Kung may be familiar to us due to the famous Tam Kung Temple in Coloane village by the waterfront near Saint Francis Xavier’s church. The temple and the church create a strong East meets West sense by the strip of seaside which overlooks the Mainland. But who is this Tam Kung?
Legend has it that Tam Kung was a bright and kind child from the Yuan Dynasty who found 돤돛 De Tao at the age of twelve. De Tao literally means receiving “the Way”; a human becoming a deity through the hard work of meditation and learning. It was believed that after Tam Kung finding De Tao, he was able to control the weather, and was often seen near seashores in the Guangdong area where he cured sickness and blessed the weather for fishermen living in the village. He was thus named the god of sea. The statues of Tam Kung seen in the Temples are that of children because according to legend, after becoming a deity, Tam Kung gained immortality and never grew old. Therefore, he still looks like a twelve-year-old boy.
How is the festival of Tam Kung celebrated? Because the Tam Kung Temple is in Coloane, the Tam Kung Festival is a big celebration all over Coloane village. Celebratory events include the Chinese Lion Dance and Portuguese Folk Dance, showing the unique Portuguese-Chinese culture of Macau. There is also a Chinese Opera about the Chinese Poseidon. The event culminates in a large outdoor dinner in Coloane Village known as the 1000-person banquet.
One thing that cannot be missed during the Tam Kung Festival celebration is the drunken dragon dance, a part of Macau’s cultural heritage. The eighth day of the fourth month is also the Drunken Dragon Dance Festival. So while the dance is performed to celebrate Tam Kung Festival, the events around the temple, in turn, also celebrate the Drunken Dragon Dance Festival.
Though both the Tam Kung Festival and the Drunken Dragon Dance Festival are very colorful celebrations, the main character of the day is still the Buddha, given it is the Buddha’s birthday and the day is considered a public holiday. One interesting thing I found about the Buddha’s birthday is that it is not as much a birthday celebration as it is a bathing celebration. The Buddha’s birthday is sometimes referred to as the Buddha Bathing Festival because on the day, the statue of the Buddha is showered with perfumed water. At first I thought that the act, by which Buddha’s believers gather to clean the Buddha statues was similar to the Tomb Sweeping Day, on which families gather to clean the tombs of ancestors. But I was wrong. The showering of the Buddha’s statue is done in tribute to the legend that Prince Siddharta Gautama was showered with perfumed water by nine dragons that had descended from heaven. The bathing of the Buddha signifies an internal cleansing for those who participate.
So, get ready for a triple festival by watching the drunken dragon dance, visiting the Tam Kung Temple in Coloane village, and seeing if we can watch the showering of the Buddha somewhere along the way.