Thien Hau Temple
Thiên Hậu is the Vietnamese transcription of the Chinese name Tianhou (“Empress of Heaven”), an epithet of the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, the deified form of Lin Moniang, a medieval Fujianese girl credited with saving one or some of her family members from harm during a typhoon through her spiritual power. Although officially unrecognized by both the governments of Mainland China and Taiwan, the faith is popular in the maritime southern provinces of China and, especially, on Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora. In Vietnam, she is also sometimes known as the “Lady of the Sea” (Tuc Goi La Ba). Mazuism is frequently syncretized with Taoism and Buddhism. For example, at the Quan Am Pagoda nearby, the two main altars are dedicated to Thien Hau and Quan Am, the Vietnamese form of Guanyin, the Chinese form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Mazu dominates the temple’s main altar
The temple was first erected c. 1760 by the Cantonese community in the city. It was saw major repairs or expansions in 1800, 1842 (and possibly also 1847), 1882, 1890, and 1916.
The interior of the temple is a partially covered courtyard, at the end of which is the altar to Thiên Hậu, where stand three statues of the goddess. The faces of the statues are bronze in color, and the clothes and crowns are multi-colored. The exposed portions of the courtyard contain incense burners, and give a view of the remarkable porcelain dioramas that decorate the roof. The dioramas show scenes from a 19th century Chinese city, and include such colorful figures as actors, demons, animals, and Persian and European sailors and traders. One scene depicts three Taoist sages representing longevity, fecundity and prosperity.
Suspended over the main worship area, in front of the altar of Thien Hau, are dozens of incense coils. Visitors to the temple frequently purchase these, attach their names to the coils, and then have them hung from the ceiling of the temple. As the incense smoke curls upwards in the air, the pilgrims believe their prayers are transmitted to the deity. Many of the incense coils are quite large, with a diameter of more than a meter, and can burn for several weeks.
The festival of worshipping Thien Hau on the 23rd day of the 3rd month of Lunar year is one of the most popular annual festivities of Chinese people in Vietnam.