Located amidst the buzz of Nguyen Trai Street, Thien Hau Temple in China Town Ho Chi minh City, is an 18th century structure dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess of that name. The practice of worshipping the deity who is revered by maritime communities in China was probably brought over by settlers from Canton. What strikes visitors on arriving at the temple premises are the remarkable friezes of porcelain dragons and figures from Chinese religion and mythology atop its roof.
The temple is designed around a narrow courtyard at the end of an elaborate altar to Thien Hau. Large tasseled Chinese lanterns and wooden models of Chinese theaters are found at the entrance. There is a great view of the rooftop friezes thick with porcelain figures from the courtyard. Porcelain and other decorations are not only found on the roof, but under the eaves and in nooks and crannies, on pillars and also on the walls. Among the mythological and religious figures there is a frieze depicting an 18th century Chinese city with Persian and European sailors and traders. Another scene is of a battle on horseback between general Guan Yu and another fighter. Yet another depicts three Taoist sages representing fecundity, longevity and prosperity. Also on the premises is a scale model of the boat which brought the first Chinese from Canton.
The goddess’s main statue, a standing one is flanked by two seated statues on either side. They are attired in lavish mostly red clothes and elaborate head dresses. The temple premises also feature several alcoves that are dedicated to other popular Chinese deities and one even has goldfish. The interior of the temple has several pink tissue paper prayer flags fluttering in the breeze with the names of donors who have provided funds for its upkeep. Large pots filled with sand are placed in front of the altar where worshippers place long incense sticks while conical incense coils with red tags hang from the rafters. A large enclosed incense burner with a funnel stands in the middles of the courtyard. The red tags on the coils contain prayers which are wafted heavenwards as the coil burns out.
Thien Hau is one of the biggest temples in the city and it is generally thronged with worshippers from the Chinese community burning incense and candles and covering the area in a perpetual haze of perfumed smoke. Two land turtles that live on the premises are said to be the temple guardians.
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