The confucious temple in Tainan (ref. 1) is the oldest one in Taiwan and a ceremony is held every year on confucious' birthday at dawn (around 5:00AM), the 28th of September, not only in Tainan but also almost all confusious temples in Taiwan. I wanted to write an article about the ceremony in English as I couldn't find such information in Tainan official websites so I did some research and found a website (Taiwan Confucian Temple, ref. 2) that is made by the Council for Cultural Affairs which has already posted the most detailed information of Confucious, the history and building style of Tainan Confucious temple and the cultural ceremony. Using that information as a backbone, together with the information from Taichung Confucious temple (ref. 3), Taiwanschoolnet (ref. 4) and Wikipedia (Ref. 5); the ShiDian Ceremony (釋奠典禮, literally “display-presentation” ceremony in Chinese) is summarized as follows:
(1) The Ceremony Begins
(2) First Drum Roll
Light up candles and incenses, musicians, dancers, and ceremonial attendants standing by. The musicians beat the Jing drum placed in transverse on the west of the Yi Gate. The first beat on the drum ring one time, followed by repeated beating in the center of the drum with both sticks, one heavier than the other and from slow to fast and from weak to strong, before slowing down and eventually becoming still followed by a heavy beat in the center. Another musician makes a heavy beat of the bell hung on the east of the Yi Gate as the end of the session.
(3) Second Drum Roll
Assistant Sacrifice Officers standing by. The whole session is conducted following the step given above, only the first beating on the drum ring and the bell sounds are performed twice.
(4) Third Drum Roll
All presentation Officers standing by. Following the step given above, the first beating on the drum ring and the bell sounds are done three times.
At dawn, the solemn drum beating is accompanied by the remaining bell sound, making one show respect.
(5) Musicians and dancers take positions
The musicians follow the lead of a guide who holds a "Hui" (Banner of light red silk) with the rhythm of drum (5-step-and-1-pause pace) going up to the platform from the east and west stairs and take their positions.
Yi dancers enter into the plaza in pairs from the east and west corridors by following the lead of a guide who holds a "Chien" (Tasseled Staff, a banner with tassels of silken cord hung at vary-ing levels), with the rhythm of drum (5-step-and-1-pause pace) to the stage in front of the Da-Cheng Hall.
(6) Ceremonial Attendants Take Their Designated Positions
The musicians, Yi dancers and the inner and outer shift officials come in 4 teams on the east and 4 on the west, totaling 8 teams. Centered by the Confucius tablet, the formation comes in symmetrical levels.
(7) The Ceremonial Supervisor Takes His Designated Position
Led by the guides, the formation stands to the southeast of Dan Chi (丹墀, red stone stage) and face southwest. The supervisor oversees the ceremony and corrects errors if any.
(8) The Assistant Sacrifice Officers Take Their Designated Position
The second consecration officers enter into the plaza from east and west and are led by the servers. Standing in the south side of the Ta Cheng Plaza, they face the hall.
(9) The Collateral Presentation Officers Take Their Designated Positions
8 officials are assigned to the east and west levels, east and west virtuous, the virtuous and Confucians in the east and west rooms. In the order of Confucians, the virtuous, intellectuals and levels, the officials enter into the plaza from both sides in symmetrical order to wash the hands and then take position by the accompanying officer, facing the Ta Cheng Hall.
Their job is to present the sacrificial feast to the other respectful spirits that are worshiped in the Confucious temple.
(10) The Principal Presentation Officer Takes His Designated Position
The principal consecration officer is led by the guide to wash the hands first before proceeding to the front of the accompanying consecration officer, facing the Ta Cheng Hall. The entrance is conducted in the symmetrical manner and the last one that enters is the principal consecration officer, in opposite position to the Confucius tablet, suggesting the interaction between people and God.
(11) Opening the Gates
Together with the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gates outside the Yi Gate, there are 5 each in front of the Ta Cheng Hall and they are closed most of the time and open only for the ceremonial ritual. The door-opening server opens it before opening the Ling Hsing gates.
(12) Burying the Sacrificial Remnants
A pig, a cow, and a goat was sacrificed before the ceremony. As of the dipping of cow hair in blood in the ceremony, the hair stands for life and blood for killing. Both are kept in a tray that is held by the server. Coming down from the Ta Cheng Hall, the servers pass by the plaza, the Yi Gate, leave the Ling Hsing Gate and arrive the west side of the gate to dig a hole and bury the hair dipped with blood; a ritual of purification and nourishment of the earth. Burial in the west as the westside indicates the elements of gold that has characteristic of chill and killing. Vegetable is used today in stead of cow hair. The ceremony is only to remind us of the legacy as burial of the hair dipped with blood indicates conservation of morals and mercy.
(13) Welcoming the Spirit
The musicians beat the drums and the bells as the beginning of the ceremony. The 3 drumbeats are accompanied by the harmonious melody. The banner crew raises the banners and the Chu players beat the instrument 3 times. Accompanied by the drum and bell beating, they leave the left and right doors of the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gate in 2 lines in a symmetrical manner from the east and the west doors. Four ceremonial attendants carrying 2 lanterns and 2 burners, leading, followed by 6 ceremonial attendants holding 2 axes, 2 Halberd ("Yueh", similar to the “fu” halberd, but slightly larger), one fan and an Umbrella. Eventually they make 3 bows outward before returning back to the Ta Cheng Hall from the central door.
(14) First Ceremony of the Three Bows
The reverence offered by the welcome procession when returning back to the Ta Cheng Hall from the central door used to be kneeling in the past, today, bows are offered instead.
(15) Presenting the Sacrificial Feast
Accompanied by the harmonious melody, the ceremony servers opens the lids of all ritual objects and move those without a lid before returning to their standing positions.
(16) Offering Incense
As an independent session, this is a part of the welcome ritual. In the past, the harmonious melody was adopted and the principal consecration officer and the accompanying one used to offer incense to all gods and the 3 bows. Since, 2003, the peaceful melody was adopted instead for the preliminary offering, making the session the core of the entire ceremony.
(17) Initial Principal Presentation
The musicians beat the drums and the bells 3 times before playing the peaceful melody. The banner servers raise the banners and the bamboo holders raise the bamboo. After beating the 3 wood instrument 3 times and the bell, the Yi dance begins along with the music. At this time, the principal consecration officer follows the guide to the Confucius tablet in the Ta Cheng Hall for the preliminary offering. The offering includes ceremonial money bill that is made of silk in white color and bearing no characters), liquor and the 3 bows. (Initial Yi dance animation in flash format)
(18) Initial Collateral Presentation
The accompanying consecration officer follows the guide to the east and west virtuous, east and west scholars and the east and west rooms for the preliminary offering in the same procedure as above.
(19) Chanting the Blessing
The principal consecration officer stands in front of the incense table and the accompanying consecration officers in front of the tablets, the lector reads the congratulatory and finally offers the 3 bows.
(20) Second Ceremony of Three Bows
(21) Second Principal Presentation
The accompanying consecration officers proceed with the secondary offering in the same procedure as above. ( Secon Yi dance animation in flash format)
(22) Second Collateral Presentation
Together with the Yi dance and the music (peaceful view melody), the principal consecration officer follows the guide back to the tablets for the offering of liquor and the 3 bows.
(23) Final Principal Presentation
The accompanying consecration officers proceed with the final offering in the same procedure as above.(Final Yi dance animation in flash format)
(24) Final Collateral Presentation
This is a ritual is conducted with the peaceful melody, not available in the sessions held in other counties and cities.
(25) All bow 3 times
(26) Officers offering incense
With the harmonious melody, the banner crew raises the banners and the bamboo crew raises the bamboo. All drums and bells sound up. The officers, offspring of Confucius follow the guide to the tablet of Confucius from the east to offer the incense and the 3 bows
(27) The Drink of Good Fortune and Receipt of Sacrificial Meat
The principal consecration officer follows the guide to the incense table in the Ta Cheng Hall and takes the cup (fortune liquor) and the fortune meat and finally the 3 bows before returning back to his position. Chinese believe the drink and sacrificial meat that offered to the spirits are blessed, sharing the offers gives the blessing to participants.
(28) Removing the Remnants of the Sacrificial Feast
Together with the harmonious melody, all officials return the lids to the objects on the table and reset the ones without a lid.
(28) Escorting the Spirit
With music and drum beating, the session is conducted just as in the welcome the god, with the harmonious melody, the procession leaves the Yi Gate and the center one of the Ling Hsing Gates.
(29) Sending the silk spirit-Money and Prayer Inscription
The wood instrument holder keeps the instrument and the cloth holder keeps the cloth when leaving the Ta Cheng Hall, the Yi Gate, and the Ling Hsing Gate to the incinerator to burn the congratulatory cloth.
(30) Observing the Incineration
At this time, the harmonious melody is played together with drum beating. The principal consecration officer follows the guide through the Yi Gate, the Ling Hsing Gate to the incinerator to complete the ceremony and the session of farewell to the god.
(31) Resuming Positions
The principal consecration officer follows the guide back to his position and the procession, the wood instrument holder, the cloth holder come back from the Yi Gate, the Ling Hsing Gate on the side.
(32) Closing the Gates
The servers close the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gate.
(33) Withdrawing Positions
The principal consecration officer, the accompanying consecration officer, the accompanying officers retreat from the Ta Cheng Hall following the guide and the servers, the musicians and the Yi dancers retreat accordingly.
(34) The Ceremony Concludes
Ba Yi Dance 八佾舞
Yi (佾) means row/column, and Ba Yi means 8 rows in 8 coulmns (8 dancers in 8 rows, 64 dancers in total). The dance is performed in 8, 6, 4, and 2 rows in accordance with rank in the empire, from emperor (8) to literati (2). Though Confucius wasn't an emperor, and Ba Yi dance is performed exclusively in the ceremonies pertaining to the emperor, there were precedents of the Ba Yi dance performed in select occasions in the Tang and Song dynasties. Recognizing the great merits that Confucius had achieved in education and politics, the emperor ordered that Ba Yi dance to be performed in the First ceremony rite for celebrating the birthday of Confucius. As the stage for the Ba Yi dance has to be big enough to accommodate 64 Yi dancers as well as Confucious was not a emperor, the Liu Yi dance (6 dancers in 6 rows) are commonly performed.
The dance is performed to show the highest respects in the rites of the ceremony for celebrating the birth of the Sage Confucius. The ceremony is divided into 3 main chapters and performed at the initial, second and final principal presentation, respectively. Each chapter contains 8 phrases and each phrase is composed of 4 words that creates 32 routines in each chapter. Yi dancers perform these routines (32X3, 96 in total) in pair with rhythms of music. The dancers stand in rows on the stage with the left hand holding the Yue, and the right hand holding the Di. The tip of the 3-foot long Di is a beautifully painted dragon head. The Yue is 2 feet long, and originally it was a pipe (the musical instrument made from bamboo). Both Di and Yue serve as ornaments to the dance. 3 robin’s tail feathers are attached to the end of Di. According to the Chinese ancient customs, the feather of the robin's tail is the most beautiful. Therefore, it's taken for showing the highest respects to Confucius.