Thien Hau Temple in Ho Chi Minh City


Coming to Ho Chi Minh City, any tourist shouldn’t miss Cholon area. Cholon is the local name of  China Town Saigon – the area of Districts 5, District 6, District 10 and a part of District 11. There are many Chinese living there and there are lots of pagodas and temples built by Chinese. One of the most ancient Chinese temples and pagodas is Thien Hau Temple or Ba Temple. Thien Hau Temple is located at 710 Nguyen Trai Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. The temple was built by a Chinese group, which had come from Quang Chau province, China in 1760.

front side of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Front side of  Thien Hau Temple

The main god worshiped in the temple is Thien Hau Thanh Mau whose first name is Mi Chau. She was born in Fujian, China, in 1044 during Tong Nhan Tong dynasty. When she was eight years old, she could read. She became a Taoist nun when she was eleven years old. When she was thirteen years old, she was given ancient books by gods. Since then, she had trained until she reached the highest level in Taoism.

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 to weave fabric beside her mother, but her soul went out to save her father and brothers. She used her teeth to keep 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 name Thien Hau Thanh Mau by Tong Dynasty. They also call her Lady of the Sea. In China, many pagodas and temples have been built to worship her, they were called after her name, Thien Hau Thanh Mau (shortly Thien Hau).

Afterwards, because of not submitting Thanh dynasty, some Chinese left their home to Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam to earn their living. Most Chinese had to cross the sea to arrive in Vietnam and they prayed Thien Hau Thanh Mau for safe. Reaching Vietnam safely, oversea Chinese believed that Thien Hau helped them. Therefore, they set up some temples to worship her. Thien Hau Temple is one of pagodas and temples built most early in Cholon area as well as Ho Chi Minh City.

Most tourists reaching Cholon visiting Thien Hau Temple in order to pray for safety and see the ancient architecture style, and antique of Chinese. There is a spacious yard with stone tiles. The pagoda is a group of four houses forming the Chinese character “khau” (口) which means mouth in English. There are three main shrines: front one, central one and back one. Between the shrines is one space called “thien tinh” (heaven well) which makes the pagoda well airy and bright.

lion in the garden of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Stone lion in the temple garden

carved wooden door in the middle of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Carved wood door of the front shrine at Thien Hau Temple

space in the middle of Thien Hau Temple tracy

The big incense burner and a big incense holder are put in “thien tinh” (heaven well) makes the pagoda well airy and bright

burner in Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

The big furnace at Thien Hau Temple

The front shrine has two altars on which Phuc Duc Chanh Than (right) and Mon Quan Vuong (left) are worshiped. There is the stone stele on which written the legend of Thien Hau Thanh Mau, and big pictures describing her journey on wave and water.

Phuc Duc Chanh Than at Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Phuc Duc Chanh Than altar

Mon Quan Vuong at Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Mon Quan Vuong altar

The central shrine is put an incense burner between two cranes and lamps, all made from bronze, all of them make the place of worship more solemn. These objects were produced in 1886.

antiques in Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Central shrine of the temple

On the back shrine (also called the main shrine or Thien Hau palace), Thien Hau Thanh Mau, Kim Hoa Nuong (right) and Long Mau Nuong Nuong (left) are worshiped. Thien Hau Thanh Mau statue was carved from wood, its height is about 1 m. That statue had existed here before the temple was built. All statues are covered by splendid embroidered clothes.

Thien Hau Temple Saigin colorful clothes on worshiped on the altar tracy

Thien Hau Thanh Mau in colorful clothes is worshiped  on back shrine

Besides, the temple has lots of other antiques made in the late 18th century and 19th century. The temple is decorated with flowers and leaves, birds and animals, horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences. All of them have red and yellow colors which make the atmosphere warm and solemn. The temple also has carved pictures of the four supernatural creatures. The temple has pottery sculpture attached on temple’s top, roof, eaves, walls and altars which were produced in China in 1908.

Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

There are about 400 antiques at the temple

Most of tourists are impressed by peaceful atmosphere, openness, strong smell of incense. There are hundreds of circle incense sticks hanging from the roof, which last for a week. Worshipers also burn different kinds of  incense sticks and a lots of candles.  Tourists are able to light prayers requests for a small fee.

incenses hung on the top of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Circle incense sticks hung at the top of Thien Hau Temple

The temple welcomes many people coming to pray everyday. On the lunar 15th and 1th of each month, Tet holidays, especially Lady of the Sea’s Day (the lunar 23th of third month), the temple is full of Chinese and Vietnamese people coming to pray for luckiness, happiness. One the day before, pagoda celebrate Lady Bathing Ceremony. In the morning of the 23th March on the lunar calendar, everyone organizes Lady Receiving Ceremory: Thien Hau Thanh Mau’s statue is put into a palanquin by boys and girls in beautiful traditional clothes. They march on the streets around the temple. Behind the palanquin is a dragon ship, red board with the names of the gods worshiped in the pagoda, and dancing teams consisting of lion one, dragon one, traditional music one.

Generally, the Thien Hau Thanh Mau legend gives prominence to Chinese woman having filial devotion, merit, sacrifice to everyone. Building and worshiping Thien Hau Thanh Mau for a long time show gratefulness of Chinese to a god having supported them on the way going to new land to earn living, and helped them to live and work in peace and contentment. Because of belief about sacrifice heart to everyone of the Lady, Vietnamese people have also gone to the temple to worship.

Thien Hau Temple is one of the most beautiful Chinese temples and pagodas of in Ho Chi Minh City. It has Chinese architecture style and contains many antiques. This place is not only a place to worship a god but also a place where China- Vietnamese gather and helping each other in Saigon. Due to reasons having just spoken above, Thien Hau Temple is recognized monument of architecture and art of national level on the seventh of January, 1993.

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