The five oldest Buddhist temples in Saigon
To Dinh Giac Lam, Hue Nghiem, Giac Vien are pagodas of over 200 years old, which are closely associated with the formation and development of Saigon.
Hue Nghiem Pagoda is located in Dang Van Bi Street (Thu Duc District). Today, the temple is often called the Hue Nghiem 1 Pagoda to distinguish from the Hue Nghiem 2 in District 2.
The temple was established by Zen master Thiet Thuy – Tanh Tuong (1668 -1757) in the eighteenth century. Some ancient documents said the temple was built in 1721. Hue Nghiem is the oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City today.
Initially the temple was built in the lowlands, about 100 meters from the current pagoda. Ms. Nguyen Thi Hien (1763-1821) donated her land to rebuild the temple. The temple was restored many times. Thelast time was in late nineteenth century by Zen Master Dat Ly – Hue Luu.
Its architecture was also changed after the restoration in 1960, 1969, 1990 and 2003. The temple campus is quite wide, with many ancient towers.
Giac Lam Pagoda
Giac Lam is one of the oldest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. Originally, it was built by Ly Thuy Long – a native Minh Huong, in 1744, as a gathering place during Lunar New Year. The newly built temple was a scenic lookout overlooking Gia Dinh Market while the area was still undeveloped and quite like a jungle. The name Giac Lam was given to the pagoda after the arrival of Monk Thich Lam Quang of the Lam Te Zen lineage, in 1772. After many times of renovation and reconstruction, it’s now located at 118 Lac Long Quan Street, Tan Binh District. Local people also call it Cam Son or Cam Dien Pagoda.
“The Third” structure of Giac Lam Pagoda is also typical of southern pagodas. It means the pagoda consists of three main buildings: the main ceremonial hall, the dharma preaching hall and the meal hall.
The first one is big with many huge pillars engraved with meaningful sentences. It worships many Buddhas such as Buddha Amitabha, Buddha Shakyamuni and some Bodhisattva like Maitreya Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Giac Lam Pagoda has 118 statues made of wood, bronze and cement.
Most of them are very ancient and valuable, which demonstrate the development of Vietnamese art of sculpture in 18th century. Not only is Giac Lam a place to observe traditional southern structure of pagodas, but it’s also where tourists can discover the specific cultural characteristics of Vietnam, like the 4-season fruit pattern.
In front of the pagoda is a big bodhi tree, a gift from the great Sri Lankan monk Narada in 1953, accompanied by the arrival of a sample of the relics of Gautama Buddha. With the purpose to store these relics, a seven-storey high stupa was built in 1970 under the architectural plans of Vinh Hoang. Due to wars, the construction was put off and could only be finished in 1993. Today, the east-facing, hexagonal-shaped stupa is considered a landmark, being the tallest Buddhist tower in the city.
Giac Vien Pagoda
Located at number 161/85/20, Lac Long Quan Street, District 11, Giac Vien is one of the oldest temples in Ho Chi Minh City. At first, it was only used as a warehouse while another pagoda (named Giac Lam) was being rebuilt. After the renovation of the latter was completed, Giac Vien Pagoda was extended as a thatched-roof hut used for worshipping Bodhisattva and was named Kwan-Yin. Finally, it became a pagoda in 1850, thanks to the monk Hai Tinh Giac Vien.
People said that Emperor Gia Long of Nguyen Dynasty used to worship at Giac Vien, known as the centre of Buddhism of six southern provinces in 19th century. Originally constructed in 1789, this pagoda underwent major restorations in 1899 and 1910. Today, it still preserves many Buddhist printing inscriptions of considerable value.
The pagoda’s style, decoration and arrangement of the worshipping shrines followed the typical ancient of pagodas built under Nguyen Dynasty of the 19th century, as well as of southern area. Because of its history, Giac Vien’s structure is similar to that of Giac Lam’s, with the main big sanctuary to worship Buddha, two corridors to the east and west to prepare and a spacious compartment at the rear.
Tourists should pay attention to the 60 wooden engraving plates, each of them illustrating different symbols of Vietnamese culture and daily life. They are the only ones that have been perfectlypreserved in Vietnam.
Chua Ba Thien Hau Pagoda
The Chua Ba Thien Hau Pagoda (The Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau) is a Chinese style temple located in Nguyen Trai Road. It is dedicated to Thien Hau, the Lady of the Sea, who is also known as Mazu.
Thien Hau is a deity of traditional Chinese religion, who is revered in the southern maritime provinces of China and in overseas Chinese communities. She is not specifically a deity of Taoism or Buddhism, though she has been brought into connection with figures and themes from Taoism and Buddhism.
Thien Hau is revered by seafaring cultures as she has the ability to travel over sea, by mat or cloud, to protect or rescue stranded seafarers and fishermen. The pagoda, one of the oldest of Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City, was built iaround 1760, then restored in 1800, 1842, 1882, 1890 and 1916. Many of the materials used for constructing the pagoda were brought from China.
The interior of the temple is a partially covered courtyard, at the end of which is the altar to Thien Hau, 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.
Phung Son Pagoda
Phung Son Pagoda is located at 1408 Duong 3 Thang 2, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City.
Phung Son Pagoda was established in the early 19th century by Bonze Lieu Thong. Since then, it has undergone two major restorations. Many statues found in the pagoda were created by a group of craftsmen from Sa Dec.
Many years ago, it was decided that it should be moved to a different location. All of the ritual objects were loaded on to the back of a white elephant for transportation.
On the way to the new site, the elephant slipped and all of the precious objects fell into a nearby pond. This event was interpreted as a sign that the pagoda should remain at its original location.
All of the ritual objects were retrieved, except the bell, which locals say was heard ringing whenever there was a new or full moon up to a century ago.
A number of valuable statues, such as Di Da Tam Ton, Ngu Hien Thuong Ky Thu, a stone statue of Buddha covered with gold leaves, and a ceramic statue of Tieu Dien are also found in the pagoda.
The surrounding area is an archaeological site from where many artifacts were excavated, such as a baked earthen head statues and ceramic items belonging to the Oc-Eo culture.
The Ministry of Culture has recognized the pagoda as a historical and cultural relic.
People pray three times a day from 4 to 5 am, 4 to 5 pm, and 6 to 7 pm.
Compiled by Pha Le, VNN