The Bombing Master Handan
“Bombing Master Handan” is a unique traditional holiday in Taitung. This folk custom for the Lantern Festival (the 15th and 16th of the first lunar month) has been celebrated since 1951. This 70 year old tradition is an essential part of every person from Taitung.
Who is “Master Handan”?
Who is “Master Handan”? Why do people throw firecrackers at him? Let us learn more about the origin of this folk custom:
Legend #1 :
“Master Handan” has the same pronunciation as“Xuan Tan” in the Taiwanese dialogue. Xuan Tan is one of the four vital gods of Taoism.
Legend #2 :
Master Handan is the immortal incarnation of Zhao Gongming from the Han dynasty. According to the legend. Master Handan is the “God of Wealth” and would bring you wealth. People believed greeting Master Handan with firecrackers would help their businesses flourish.
Legend #3 :
Locals have even sought the intervention of mediums for spirit channeling and ascertained even more answers to the origin of Master Handan. One version states that prior to his death, he was a bully who tormented nice people. In order to rectify his misdoings, he was instructed to do good deeds by the deities. Because he was unmarried and poor, he was thus named Handan (in reference to the transliteration of the Chinese characters.)
The origin story for Master Handan has many versions. Folklore states that he was afraid of the cold so people will bombard him with firecrackers to warm him up. People believed the more firecrackers were used, the more wealth and fortune would be granted.
How did the “Bombing Master Handan” become a popular traditional custom in Taitung?
There are three major Lantern Festivals celebrated in Taiwan – the Northern Sky Lantern Festival, the Southern Beehive Fireworks Festival and last but not least, the Eastern Bombing of Master Handan. The Bombing of Master Handan was originally celebrated in other parts of Taiwan as well. Nowadays, Taitung is the last place in Taiwan that still carries on this traditional folk custom, making this an exclusive unique experience in Taitung.
According to historical records, this popular custom of bombing Master Handan can be traced back as early as the Qing Dynasty. The origin story for Master Handan has many versions. Master Handan embodies the elements of both good and evil. Folklore states that he was afraid of the cold so people will bombard him with firecrackers to warm him up. People believed the more firecrackers were used, the more wealth and fortune would be granted.
Those assuming the role of Master Handan act as a vessel to provide a conduit for Master Handan to transcend the ethereal realm into the corporal as to resolve disputes between people. Modern terminology would refer to thim as a bouncer or mediator. He was often mistaken as a hooligan or gangster thus arose the custom whereas the attire donned by Master Handan consists of only a pair of shorts and bare chest.
The Bombing of Master Handan event first began in approximately 1950. Due to an incident regarding public safety in 1983, the image of the Master Handan festival was tarnished. Thus the festival was banned from 1984 to 1988. Finally, the festival was reinstated in 1989 by coordination with local residents.
Exclusive to Taitung, the Bombing of Master Handan is a unique highlight of the Lantern Festival. In 2007, it finally became officially registered and sanctioned as a folk custom and cultural asset of Taitung County.
The Ceremony of the Bombing Master Handan
The ceremony of the Bombing of Master Handan starts at the eve of the Lantern Festival with the deafening sound of firecrackers. Every year there will be several people assuming the role of Master Handan. People fill the streets of Taitung to join the celebration as they believe that the pilgrimage of Master Handan will bring good luck and fortune.
The distinctive look of Master of Handan: During the ceremony, those assuming the role of Master Handan wear nothing but red shorts with red headscarf on their head to keep their hair from being scorched by the flame and sparks from the firecrackers. Earplugs are also worn to prevent the loud sound of firecrackers from damaging their eardrums. They cover their face with a wet towel to avoid inhaling heavy smoke, and hold a banyan leaf on their hand to disperse the cannon fodder and to avoid getting hurt from the firecracker sparks.
Unlike the typical grand sedan chairs used in other traditional Taiwanse religious pilgrimages, Master Handan’s sedan chair is made out of bamboo and is carried by four appointees with the man assuming the role of Master Handan standing barefoot on top of the rattan sedan chair. Business owners of all the stores along the pilgrimage route will come out to throw firecrackers at Master of Handan. Master Handan and his crew will endure the “Baptism of firecrackers” during the entire ceremonial route until all the firecrackers have been used up.
Nowadays, the Bombing of Master Handan is the most well-known folk festival in Taitung. It has even attracted international media coverage. Taitung has seen an increase of foreigner exchange students coming to get an exhilarating first-hand experience at assuming the role of Master Handan.