Shen Nong dadi (神農大帝) is also called Shen Nong shi (神農氏), Wugu Xiandi (五穀先帝), Xiandi (先帝), Yaowang (藥王), Tianzu (田祖) and Shen Nong etc. He was listed as one of the high gods in the court of Han dynasty. It is said that Shen Nong taught ancient Chinese practicing the agriculture. That is why he is called Shen Nong, the Divine Farmer. However, Shen Nong who is regarded as an important cultural hero in Chinese history, just left only one achievement is impossible. It is said that Shen Nong is the first to taste various kinds of herbs to discriminate between beneficial and harmful ones. Besides, he founded the market to make the ancient Chinese trade goods, and multiplied the Eight Trigrams (八卦) to the Sixty-four Trigrams (六十四卦). Summarily, Shen Nong is not only the cultural but also the agricultural god and the medical god.
From Zhou dynasty, the worship to Shen Nong dadi was regarded as a national rite. The worship to Shen Nong is called Xian-se (先嗇).
The temple of Shen Nong was founded quite early in Taiwan. In 1646, the settlers from Fujian province had already built a temple of Shen Nong which is named with Kaiji Yaowang miao (開基藥王廟
), the First founded temple of Yaowang, located in one end of Shen Nong street, Tainan city, today. According to statistics, in 1918, there were about sixty temples dedicated to Shen-nong dadi. In 1981, there are 112 Shen Nong dadi ‘s temples. Today, it is estimated about 150 temples even Taiwan being not an agriculture society anymore. Apparently, Shen Nong is not confined by his agriculture character and still as an important and popular god today. It is because of there are still many traditional Chinese medicine merchants regarded Shen Nong as patron god of trade. When it is the birthday of Shen Nong, the guilds of traditional Chinese medicine in elsewhere often hold a festival for Shen Nong dadi. The temple of Shen Nong dadi is also an important association in society. In Jia-yi county (嘉義縣), most of the campus of Zhong-zheng university (中正大學)is donated by the Wugu wang miao (五谷王廟
) located in Minxiong (民雄).
The outlook of the statue of Shen Nong dadi is very special. Most often, the Chinese popular gods are dressed up in ancient official clothing. One kind statue of Shen Nong dadi is like a farmer. He has a high forehead and big eyes. His upper body and feet are naked and he wears a garland made of leaves on his neck and a skirt or grass skirt, hands spikes of rice or herb medicines. One of three kinds of color is painted on his face. They are red, black, and green. They are all in relation to the legend of his tasting various kinds of herb medicine. Another kind of his statue is a general one that is closed to an emperor who wears a dragon robe (龍袍) and a Chinese crown.
In Chinese lunar calendar, the April, 26th
is the birthday of Shen-nong dadi. Shen Nong dadi’s birthday celebration became a local festival in some places. For example, the temple of Shen Nong dadi named Xianse temple (先嗇宮) in Sanchong (三重) takes place a festival every year becomes a local major occasion called ‘Sanchong da bai bai’ (三重大拜拜). There is also an association of Shen Nong dadi named Zhonghua Shen Nong dadi Xiejinhui (中華神農大帝協進會) which is an association to maintain or to create the relationship between different temples of Shen Nong dadi. Comparing to mainland china, where the worship and temple of Shen-nong dadi is rare, in Taiwan, the worship of Shen Nong dadi seems more popular and flourishing.
Keywords: Shen Nong dadi, Xianse, Yaowang, herb medicines