A Unique Đạo Mẫu Worship Vestige in Hanoi

Posted at: MONday - 28/10/2013 09:40 - post name: Phan Trọng Quỳnh

A Unique Đạo Mẫu Worship Vestige in Hanoi

Đạo Mẫu is a popular religious belief in Vietnam. According to the researchers, Đạo Mẫu bears the nature ofa religious mixture of folk beliefs, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.Đạo Mẫuwas fomulated and developed along the process of Vietnam’s culture and history.It is the worship of the “Mother Goddesses”. The Mother Goddesses can bemythical figures such as Heaven Mother Goddess (Mẫu Cửu Trùng, Mẹ Trời), Mother Âu Cơ, or Mother Tam Đảo.

Vietnamese folks have brought into the world of “Mother Goddesses” the real characters in the history of the nation. Heroines, famous women, or female job ancestorswith contribution to the people and country also have the honor of worship such as MotherỶ Lan (under theLýdynasty), Mother Bích Châu (under the Trần dynasty), Mother Goddess of Weaving Thu La, and so on.  However, it is far from the thought that the main subjects of Đạo Mẫu worship are only grandmothers or mothers, e.g. Mother Goddess Thoải (Mother Goddess of Water), Mother Goddess Thượng Ngàn (Mother Goddess of Forest), Mother ofHomeland (Bà mẹ xứ sở - Tower of Lady inNha Trang),Queen of Homeland (Bà chúa Xứ inChâu Đốc– An Giang ), etc. Due to the absorption of folk elements and externalities, subjects of Đạo Mẫu worship should be diverse in origins. They also includeFather King of the Sky (đức vua cha),mandarins (quan), princes (ông hoàng), damsels (cô), boys (cậu),Five Tigers (Ngũ Hổ), Guan Yin Buddha, the Jade Emperor God, and even the Saint of Tran Dynasty (Đức Thánh Trần) – a real life general with greatcredit of three-time defeat of the Yuan – Mongolian enemy.

Mẫu temples appear in most of urban and rural areas in Vietnam (even in most of pagodasunder the shape of Mẫu altar).In this article, we would like to talk about a very special Mẫu relic right at the center of Hanoi – Ba Kieu temple for the worship ofthe Supreme Mother Goddess Liễu Hạnh (Thánh Mẫu Liễu Hạnh).

The place is known by a folk name of unknown origin – Ba Kieu Temple, also known as“Land of Huyền Chân”(Huyền Chân Địa) or “Land of Heaven Fairy” (Thiên Tiên Địa). The ancient temple is located in the holy land at the center of Thang Long – Hanoi, facing the historical cluster of Ngc Sơn Temple, Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Turtle Tower which is tied with the legendary where King Le Thai To returned the Holy Turtle’s sword, and Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square place where the historical events associated with the Capital’s patriotic confucian scholars.

Based on ancient documents and inscriptions left, in the Later Lê Dynasty warlord period (Lê trung hưng), the temple belongedto T Vng village, Th Xương sub-district, then to the mid-nineteenth century to Hà Thanh village, Đông Các Ward, Th Xương district, Hà Ni province. At the early twentieth-century, the temple was known as the third household of BHOld Quarter, and now the temple is located in Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street, Lý Thái Tổ Ward, Hoàn Kiếm District, Hà NiCity.

The temple worships Mother Liu Hnh and her two maidens named Quỳnh Hoa and Quế Hoa princesses. Mother Liễu is among the Vietnam’s Four Immortals, of which the rest are Saint Tản Viên, Saint Gióng, and Chử Đồng Tử. A number of ancient books refers to Her. After searching the books Truyền Kỳ Mạn Lục, Thính Văn Lục, Hà Thành Linh Tích Cổ Lục, Thăng Long Cổ Tích Khảo, it could be found that the most detailed and complete legend of Her is only recorded in the story Vân Cát Goddess of Truyền Kỳ Tân Phả by Đoàn Thị Điểm.Excluding folk factors handed down, Liu Hnh’s life patterns were matched with the records in the genealogy of Trần Lêfamily in Her hometown –current An Thái Village, Vụ Bản district, Nam Định province.The legend of Her can be summarized as follows: Liễu Hạnh was born as one of the daughters of the Jade Emperor. One day, She dropped the emperor's favorite jade cup, for which the Emperor expelled Liễu Hạnh from heaven. After that, She was reincarnated into the Lê Thái Công family and named Giáng Tiên, then adopted by a retired mandarin of Tran family. Giáng Tiên is not only beautiful but also talented in music, chess, poetry, and drawing. She was married to a son of a village’s mandarin of Đào family and had 02 childrens, a son and a daughter. While have a peaceful life with Her family, Giáng Tiên had to ascended to Heaven without suffering from any illness. However, still in love with the world, She asked Her king father to return to earth. With her magic transformation, She traveled the world unpredictably. Sometimes she disguised herself as a beautiful lady selling rice wine in Tây Hồ and composing extempore poems with Trạng Bùng and young scholars of the Ngô and Lý families, or teasing messager groups returning from Chinese Empire. Leaving West Lake, the princess went to Nghệ An where She was married to a young orphan student named Sinh whom she thought to be an incarnation of her husband and had a child with him. Eventually it was time for Lieu Hanh to return to Heaven, and she sadly left her family to return to Heaven.On her second return to Heaven the princess again pleaded with the Emperor to return to earth, and this time returned with two other fairies – Quỳnh Hoa and Quế Hoa. They all settled down in Cát Stress of Thanh Hóa where had beautiful mountains, lush flowers, holy wellof pearls, and south and north travellers. The princess blessed those who were good, and brought destruction on those who were not, so the people built a temple out of thankfulness.The Cảnh Trị government heard she was an evil spirit and sent the military to burn down the temple.When her temple was burnt down, all the animals in the area died from a mysterious disease, so the villagers built a platform to send her offerings. The princess appeared on the platform, declaring she was from Heaven, and demanded that the government build a new temple for her to stop the epidemic. The government built the new temple in Pho Cat Mountain, and proclaimed her Mã Hoàng công chúa,Chế Thắng Hòa Diệu Đại Vương (Golden Princess to Whom Sacrifices Are Made as to the God of War), or Mẫu Nghi Thiên Hạ (Mother of the World). Mother Liễu Hạnhis the symbol of love, freedom, and commitment to enter the world for ordinary lives.

It can be said that among Mothers, Mother Liễu Hạnh is worshppied by most, especially in the Northern Delta region. Not mentioned to Phủ Dầy vestige, Bà Kiệu Temple is a extremely ancient and unique relic. The temple was built during the Lê Trung Hưng period and expanded in the mid of Cảnh Trị date.With the precious materials, including famous wood from Xưa mountain and rocks from Nhuệ mountain of Châu Ái area, and the ingenuity of the talented artisans,Bà Kiệu Templeis surely a rare relic. The temple resembles the letter “Gong” (I) consisting of the Đại Bái house, a square house (phương đình), and a harem. The temple used to havethe three-door temple gate (tam quan) adjacent to Hoàn Kiếm Lake .

Building tramlines in early twentieth century separated thetemple’s architecture into 2 parts: the three-door temple gate and worship area as nowadays. Through the ups and downs of history, including the impact of nature, Bà Kiệu Templehave been renovated several times. However, it still retains the old deep definition, which are two blue glaze porcelain statues of carp fish dragon flanking the sacred water jug on the roof of the Đại Bái house. Inside are the carved dragon head with bodies embossed with cloud, perrons paved with large blue gray stones, the verandah square pillarsmade of white stone with 25cm each side and stone plinths, etc. The most important part of shrine is placed in the heart of the temple. The exquisitely carved statues of Mothers are located in a large khám for worship. The higher level are 3 statues of Tam tòa Thánh mẫu (Three Places for Worshipping Mother Goddesses), Mother Goddess Thiên(Mother Goddess of Heaven), Mother Goddess Thoải (Mother Goddess of Water), and Mother Goddess Địa (Mother Goddess of Earth), while the lower level are Mother Goddess Liễu Hạnh and her two fairy maidens Quỳnh Hoa and Quế Hoa.

What make the worth unique of Bà Kiệu Temple are the preserved relics of the reigns of Lê, Tây Sơn, and Nguyn. First of all, it has to mention the large bronze bell (94cm in height and 45cm in diameter) cast in the8th Cnh Thnh year (1800). The bell was donated by a mandarin under the Tây Sơn reign named Nhuận Trạch Hầu Trần Duy Ứng. Next are 4 stone stelae:

- Hưng Công Bi(the stele of Hưng Công) madein the 8th Cnh Thnh year (1800) to recordthe donation of Trần Duy Ứng– a mandarin under the Tây Sơn reign.

- Trùng tu Huyền Chân Từ Bi Ký (the stele of restoration of Huyền Chân Temple) builtin the 19th Tự Đức year (1866) by the actingTuần Phủ Hưng Hóa Nguyễn Duy Dĩand the village’s leaders to record the history of the temple and the restoration in the 17th Tự Đức year(1864) leaving imprints on the architecture of today.

- Thiên Tiên điện nguyên phụng quản nhận thế thứ hương hỏa Lê tộc tổ tiên tòng hương bi (the stele of second ancestral lineage of the Le family voluntarily receiving thehereditary taking care of Tiên Thiên Shrine and allowed by the villagers) made in the 27th Tự Đức year(1874) recording the 5 generations of the Lê family from the forefather Trọng Lê to the fifth Trọng Tín.

- Lê tộc bi ký (the stele of the Lê family) made in the 8th Bảo Đại year(1933) to record theLê Chất Ký and Lê Văn Anboth enjoyed worship with the existing.

Bà Kiệu Templeis currently maintaining the 27 papers conferring titles on Mother Goddess Liễu Hạnh and her two fairy maidens Quỳnh Hoa and Quế Hoa. This is a rare thing, especially for the Đạo Mẫu worship relics. Among the 27 conferring papersare 3 under the date of Cnh Hưng 44 (1783) and3 byChiêu Thống (1787) of the Lê reign, 3 by Quang Trung under theTây Sơn Dynasty of Quang Trung (1792), and other 3 under the date of Cnh Thịnh (1793). Over the reigns of Kings Minh Mệnh, Thiệu Trị, Tự Đức, Đồng Khánh, and Duy Tân of the Nguyn Dynasty, the Mother Goddess was conferred fine names and ranked among Supreme Mother Goddess.

Bà Kiệu Temple– an ancient relic preserving the the divinity and being located in the sacred area of Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the heart of Hanoi – is the rare relic of worshipping Mother Goddess Liu Hnh a.k.a “Mother of the World” and have always been the pride Hanoians and the whole country.

Hanoi, October 2013

* Director of the Management Board of Hanoi Landscapes

Translated by Nga Nguyen

Author: Dr. Nguyen Doan Tuan [*]
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