Spiritual documentation of people & culture inside the Thien Hau Temple, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The Thien Hau Temple is one of the most spiritual places I have visited in HoChiMinh City. Mainly established with Chinese roots, the temple showcases many furniture, golden statues, and golden utensils which are directly imported from China to preserve the temple's history and originality. Let's get to know more about the place!
History in Brief
Until now many people from China and Vietnam have enriched this temple built in 1760 in the name of Thien Hau Thanh Mau, who practiced Confucianism and Buddhism with magical powers. One day, her father named Lam Tich Khanh was on a boat with her two older brothers to transfer salt to Giang Tay for sale. On the way, the boat was damaged by a big storm. At that time, she was sitting weaving fabric beside her mother, but her soul went out to save her father and brothers. She used her teeth to keep her father’s coat and two hands to keep the brothers. Unfortunately, her mother called her that made her answer. She just opened her lips to answer, her father was swept away in water and she saved only the two brothers. Since then, people have called her to be saved when their boats have been in danger. In 1110, she was named Thien Hau Thanh Mau by Tong Dynasty.
In this temple, all the idols are plated with gold from China and bestowed with gems. The moment you enter the temple premises you will come across two Altars on your left and right which hold the statues of - Phuc Duc Chanh Than, or the Goddess of Earth that bestows happiness and joy; to your left, Mon Quan Vuong (God of the Gates).
Incense Stick Culture
The tradition of lighting incense sticks has been there in Asian mythologies for a long long time. But honestly, Thien Hau temple stands out in this respect from many other temples in Vietnam. People here come every day to light up incense and pray to the Goddess for well-being.
The Ba Thien Hau event held on March 23rd (Lunar Calendar) is also a great event attended by many people. On this day, the statue of Lady Thien Hau is placed on a palanquin and carried by young boys and girls of the 20s age which along with many activities like lion dance and art performance, create an extremely exciting festival space.
Why Spiral Incense Sticks?
Another impressive point in the architecture of the temple is the roof. They are all harmonious and beautiful. If you look closely at each line, you will understand how subtle the feat is to have more admiration for the artists’ enthusiasm and talent.
The highlight of Ba Thien Hau temple is the unique hanging ring incense. Visitors can buy the ring incense, write down their wishes on paper, then hang up to beg Thien Hau.
Another special point of the temple is that all materials are imported from China, from the woods to the censer, from bas-reliefs to figurines. This partly shows that Lady Thien Hau Temple is very important in the life of Chinese people in Saigon.
The above images show a lady lighting a spiral incense stick with her wish written on Chinese paper while the second image shows how these are hung on the temple ceiling by a man.
Death Rituals in Thien Hau?
Yes, the Ba Thien Hau temple is also a place where Chinese/Vietnamese people pay homage to the souls that passed away. Do you know about Joss Papers? It's a Chinese tradition of paying money to the deceased people in a family. Joss papers are usually made of bamboo paper or rice paper. They are also called Spirit Money as these are currencies that Chinese people burn to provide them to the deceased spirit so that they can spend their afterlife without any shortages. Different types of spirit money are given to distinct categories of spirits. The three main types of spirit money are copper, silver, and gold. Copper monies are given to newly deceased spirits and spirits of the unknown. Golden Joss papers (jin) are mostly offered to the Deities such as the Jade Emperor. Silver Joss paper (ying) is given exclusively to ancestral spirits as well as other spirits.
Here you can see a man burning a golden Joss Currency paper in the thien tinh” (heaven well) while his son was watching the same. The ritual is common if the person has faced a loss of a family member and he might have come to the temple offering respect and money to the deceased one.
On holidays such as Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, or the full moon every month, people as well as many tourists often go to Thien Hau temple to pray for blessing and peace. Fragrant incense dissolves into nothingness, waving in the wind, bringing wishes from people’s hearts to Lady Thien Hau. Visiting Thien Hau Temple you can not only pray but also have an opportunity for visitors to learn about the history and architecture of a Chinese ancient place in the heart of Saigon.