Emperor Jade Pagoda (Ngoc Hoang Pagoda Saigon)

Emperor Jade Pagoda (Ngoc Hoang Pagoda Saigon)

Built in 1909 in honour of the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), this is one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in HCMC, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes. The pungent smoke of incense (huong) fills the air, obscuring the exquisite woodcarvings.

Jade Emperor Pagoda Or Chua Ngoc Hoang

Photo source: Scooter Saigon Tour

Its roof encrusted with elaborate tile work, the temple’s statues, depicting characters from both Buddhist and Taoist lore, are made from reinforced papier mâché. Inside the main building are two especially fierce and menacing Taoist figures. On the right (as you face the altar) is a 4m-high statue of the general who defeated the Green Dragon (depicted underfoot). On the left is the general who defeated the White Tiger, which is also being stepped on.
Worshippers mass before the ineffable Jade Emperor, who presides – draped in luxurious robes and shrouded in a dense fug of incense smoke – over the main sanctuary. He is flanked by his guardians, the Four Big Diamonds (Tu Dai Kim Cuong), so named because they are said to be as hard as diamonds.
Out the door on the left-hand side of the Jade Emperor’s chamber is another room. The semi-enclosed area to the right (as you enter) is presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell; to the left is his red horse. Other figures here represent the gods who dispense punishments for evil acts and rewards for good deeds. The room also contains the famous Hall of the Ten Hells, carved wooden panels illustrating the varied torments awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell. Women queue up at the seated effigy of the City God, who wears a hat inscribed with Chinese characters that announce ‘At one glance, money is given’. In a mesmerising ritual, worshippers first put money into a box, then rub a piece of red paper against his hand before circling it around a candle flame.

Jade Emperor Pagoda In Saigon 5

Jade Emperor Pagoda In Saigon 4

Jade Emperor Pagoda In Saigon 2

Jade Emperor Pagoda In Saigon

Altar in the taoist Jade Emperor Pagoda Chua Ngoc Hoang – Photo by Scooter Saigon Tour

On the other side of the wall is a fascinating little room in which the ceramic figures of 12 women, overrun with children and wearing colourful clothes, sit in two rows of six. Each of the women exemplifies a human characteristic, either good or bad (as in the case of the woman drinking alcohol from a jug). Each figure represents a year in the 12-year Chinese astrological calendar. Presiding over the room is Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Chief of All Women. Upstairs is a hall to Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, opposite a portrait of Dat Ma, the bearded Indian founder of Zen Buddhism.

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The Emperor Jade Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Hoang or Phuoc Hai Tu) is located at 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Ngoc Hoang Pagoda is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda. This figurine-filled place of worship is considered by many to be Saigon’s finest. The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most attractive pagodas in the city. Dedicated to various Chinese-Vietnamese divinities, in a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist styles, the pagoda houses numerous statues and delicate woodcarvings with intricate tiles on the roof.

An outer courtyard is filled with lotus ponds and bamboo bird cages, two fish and turtle pools, and Ho Phap temple with the names of the two colossal statues guarding the main gate of a pagoda. The pagoda has about 300 statues placed in three sections as follows:

  • God of the soil (the left of entrance) and the gate-gods (the right of entrance)
  • Duoc Su Buddha is in the central section
  • Thanh Long General is placed in the left and Phuc Ho General in the right
  • Emperor Jade is worshiped in central, Cundi Bodhisattva in right and Huyen Vo Buddha in left.

You’ll be rewarded with the sight of several giant papier-mache Buddhist and Taoist figures, magnificent but fierce-looking, standing at the side. Though choc-a-bloc with statuettes and carvings, the Taoist Jade Emperor takes center stage. Take a close look at the pagoda worn walls, lined with gilt-edge and old wooden tablets, and scrawled with Chinese characters.
In addition, there are many statues such as a constellation in the northern hemisphere, Ursa major, Sun Wukong. Some statues were made from wood and others from pasteboard.
The Emperor Jade Pagoda is one of the most popular religious sites I Vietnam and is more usually visited by the tourists visiting Vietnam and the city of Ho Chi Minh. The pagoda is also known as Tortoise Pagoda. The temple is filled with quite a number of figurines and is considered to be one of the finest in Saigon. The crowd consists mainly of the locals in the area who are the group of worshippers performing the spiritual rites with flowers and incenses. The other group consists of the tourists.

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