Thien Hau Temple in Ho Chi Minh City

THIEN HAU TEMPLE OR BA 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 people living there and there are lots of pagodas and temples built by the Chinese. One of the most ancient Chinese temples and pagodas is Thien Hau Temple or Ba Temple.

General information

Location: Thien Hau Temple is located at 710 Nguyen Trai Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City.

Opening hours: 8:00 – 16:30.

Names:

  • Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu or Thien Hau Lady Pagoda, Thien Hau Temple or 天后廟 (the pagoda worship Thien Hau Lady);
  • Chùa Bà Chợ Lớn or Cho Lon Lady Pagoda (the pagoda is located in the center of Cho Lon or Saigon China Town);
  • Hội Quán Tuệ Thành or Tue Thanh Assembly Hall.

History

The temple was built by a Chinese group, which had come from Guangzhou (Quảng Châu, Quang Chau) Province, China in 1760. It is one of the oldest religious sites built by Chinese people in Saigon.

Mazu (Thien Hau Lady)

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.

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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. 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).

Afterward, 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.

Architecture

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 complex of four houses forming the Chinese character “khau” (口) which means mouth in English. There are three main halls: front hall, central hall and back hall. All the halls face a sky well which is called “thien tinh” (heaven well) which makes the pagoda well ventilated and bright.

Fence and front yard

The green wrought iron fence is rather simple. On the pavement, visitors can see some street vendors who sell incenses, birds for releasing and other offerings.

The front yard is rather spacious and visitors usually park their motorbike here. The stone yard tiles, two statues of lions and burners with green roofs used for burning loose incense. There are many reliefs depicting flowers, mountains on the right and left walls. The reliefs on the top of the walls were carved skillfully and covered with moss.

lion in the garden of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

Stone lion in the temple garden

Front hall (Tiền điện)

The facade of the front hall is also the facade of the pagoda. The green wrought iron fence and shutters and red pillars with Chinese characters make the facade colorful and vital. The roof is covered with moss and dust so that it is in light black color. Ceramic ornaments and reliefs on the top of the roof are the most impressive. Two dragons facing a pearl, animals such as carps, couples of birds on flower branches and many people in elegant palaces. Two ceramic figurines above the two pillars, the pillars also decorated with sculptures. Lion ornaments, hexagonal and round lanterns are also used to decorate the pagoda.

front side of Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

The facade of  Thien Hau Temple

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

Carved wood door of the front shrine at Thien Hau Temple

The front hall 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

 

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Sky well (Thiên tĩnh)

Chinese temples and pagodas’ designs usually include sky wells that bring sunlight and fresh air to the halls. Incenses are burned too much and the smoke spread in the entire buildings of Chinese pagodas. It is true that sky well is a great solution. Being in the sky well, visitors can see lots of beautiful reliefs that have been existed for over 100 years. A huge incense burner and another loose incense burner are put in the middle of the sky well.

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 burner at Thien Hau Temple

Central hall (Trung điện)

In the central hall, an incense burner, two candle holders, and lamps are put on an altar, 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

The central hall of the temple

Thien Hau Temple Saigon tracy

There are about 400 antiques at the temple, these ancient fire pumps can be seen in the central hall.

Thien Hau Temple Saigon

Names of donors are written on pink papers

Back hall (Hậu điện, Chánh điện)

On the back hall (also called the main hall 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 with 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

Most of the tourists are impressed by the 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 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 on metal string in the sky well Thien Hau Temple

Antiques stored in Chua Ba Thien Hau

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.

Activities at Thien Hau Temple

The temple welcomes many people coming to pray every day. On the lunar 15th and 1st of each month, Tet holidays, especially Lady of the Sea’s Day (the lunar 23rd of the third month), the temple is full of Chinese and Vietnamese people coming to pray for luckiness, happiness. One day before Lady of the Sea’s Day, they hold Lady Bathing Ceremony. On the morning of the 23rd March on the lunar calendar, they organize Lady Receiving Ceremory at which 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 dancing team, red boards 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 women 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 lands 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.

A lion and unicorn dancing team performs at Chua Ba Thien Hau Temple

A lion and unicorn dancing team performs in the front yard of Chua Ba Thien Hau Temple

A lion and unicorn dancing team performs at Chua Ba Thien Hau Temple

Tourists and guides take a photo with a lion and unicorn dancing team

Thien Hau Temple in summary

Thien Hau Temple is one of the most beautiful Chinese temples and pagodas of in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a Chinese architectural 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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