Nam Huong pagoda and Statue of Le Loi
In remembrance of the legend of Hoan Kiem Lake, this temple was built on the west shore of the lake and dedicated to king Le Thai To (Le Loi). Originally the temple and its grounds extended to the corner of Hang Trong and Nha Tho streets. The French administration tore down this complex in order to build hotels and shops. The present upstairs pagoda was constructed in 1902 at its new site in order to be within view of the statue of Le Thai To in the garden below, which still fronts on Hoan Kiem Lake.
Earlier, there was only a stele under a modern-style canopy, but in 1900 the stone statue of Le Thai To, holding the miraculous sword, was placed on a tall column. The garden was restored in the year 2000, commemorating 990 years since the founding of Hanoi, and the steps to the dinh/den at the back of the garden added in 2007.
Nam Huong Pagoda
The pagoda is located upstairs, with the ground floor on Hang Trong street rented out. The next house is the home of an elderly lady who is the keeper of the temple, refreshing the flowers and offerings and cleaning the temple. Her mother’s brother did this before her and, although she doesn’t remember exactly, she thinks her family members have always been the caretakers.
Nam Huong is also the dinh (community center) of the ‘village’ of Hang Trong, and there is a photograph of the men of the village taken in 1941 on the left as you enter.
This village, at least from 1920 to 1950, was primarily a flag-making village, but it also made painted drums, embroidered wall hangings, drapes and court umbrellas. Examples of all of these, made by the villagers, are in the temple. Bright red silk embroidered hangings frame the altars and there are special yellow silk embroidered umbrellas in honor of the king, Le Thai To. Yellow was a color reserved for kings. There is also a drum painted red and gold hanging from the rafters.
In the dinh are accoutrements typical of many pagodas. There are wooden gourds and brass pots in front of the altars with wooden sticks for beating time when meditating – 5, 10 or 15 times on the wooden pot but only once on the brass one. There are several low lecterns for placing books, and wooden beads for counting to help concentration while meditating.
On the middle altar is a statue of Le Thai To, with an altar to his guards on the left, and one to Buddha on the right. This altar has a small ceramic statue of the revered Quan Am with a statue of the Mother Goddess of the Earth behind this, and a painting of three Bodhisattvas above her. The words “Ban Tho Phat” meaning the altar to Buddha are written here. On the altar dedicated to the guards there is a picture of Nguyen Dinh Khoa, the constructor of the dinh.
Also on the central altar of Le Thai To is a small bronze plaque with the words “Here is Le Thai To, the father of all Vietnamese”. There are lacquered calligraphies about the altar saying “Long Life to the King” and “Le Thai To is the brother of paradise.”
Behind the principal altar is a smaller one with two large kneeling statues. These are eunuchs who are the guards for the back chapel dedicated to Le Thai To’s niece, who is greatly honored here, as she is a famous heroine in her own right. She was courageous and victorious in combating the Chinese Ming. Deities, two on each side, sitting on thrones and dressed in rich robes and mandarin hats, flank her statue. These are the gods guarding the east, west, north and south of Hanoi, Voi Phuc, Bach Ma, Quan Thanh, and Kim Lien. Le Thai To’s niece is in the center guarding Hoan Kiem Lake./.