29/09/2009 | 09:09:56

Ba Kieu Temple

Ba Kieu  temple is now located across from the Ngoc Son temple. When it was built the area belonging to this temple was quite large. Part of the original three-gated entrance is still there, but is now a kiosk selling Vietnamese souvenirs to tourists.

The entrance and the temple were separated when the road around the lake was built in 1885, during the French colonial era. It is thought that the founder of the temple was Chua Trinh, the wife of the First Scribe (Mandarin) to a Le king who ruled in the late 17th to early 18th century. Ba Kieu temple dates from that time.

During the American War in the 1960s and 70s, a large part of this temple was used to display pictures of damage done by the enemy and relics of captured soldiers and equipment. After the war it was used as a picture gallery to display and sell the works of Vietnamese artists. In 2007, the gallery was closed.

The altars are all in the back of the temple with wooden doors separating them from the rest of the space. Originally, this part was not accessible to the public as it was considered sacred. Now it is open, but only on the 1st and the 15th days of the lunar month.

The primary figure of worship, to whom the central altar is dedicated, is the “Mother Goddess,” Lieu Hanh. Belief in powers supports a combination of popular folk religion as well as Buddhism, feminism, and nationalism. She is worshiped as a goddess of fertility and abundance. Thus, many women seeking to become pregnant will worship at this temple.

The main altar has a bas relief, dating from the period of the origin of the temple, hanging on the back wall of the glassed-in partition, with Lieu Hanh in the center wearing a red jacket (the color can’t be seen) and the Mothers of the Forest and the Sea on either side. In front, still in the glass case, are statues of the Mothers of the Sea, the Sky and the Forest, with Lieu Hanh again in the center.

In front of the glass case is a new statue in ceramic of Quan Am, a female Bodhisattva, seated on a lotus flower. She is usually known as the goddess of 1,000 arms and 1,000 eyes, though in this case 998 of the arms and eyes are hidden. Though she attained the status Buddhahood, she decided to save all living creatures before entering Nirvana. In particular, she protects man against the dangers of storms, fires, and demons, and makes women fertile.

There are two further altars on the left and two on the right of the central altar. These are dedicated to Vietnamese deities, including Duc Vua Cha, Father King of the Sky. He is flanked by two small statues of his scribes, who register births and deaths.

On a perpendicular wall on the far left is the ancestral altar for the family which has been the guardian of the Ba Kieu Temple for five generations.

Outside the temple is an old banyan tree, which is said to shelter the homeless spirits. Beside it is a statue in tribute to those that fought for their country against the French. Previously there was, in the same place, a statue to Alexandre de Rhodes, the Jesuit monk who came to Vietnam in 1627 and developed the written script (quoc ngu). From 1900, this has been the official written form of Vietnamese.

From January 2007, a vast clock has been counting down, from 1,000, the number of days until ten centuries since the founding of Hanoi will be celebrated in October 2010./.

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