Hon Chen Temple – Culture of worshipping Thánh Mẫu in Hue and Vietnam

Hon Chen Temple located on Ngoc Tran Mountain, Ngoc Ho Village, Huong Ho Commune, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien Hue Province, is one of the most reputable relics attracting more tourists to experience Hue historical value in here.

Hon Chen Temple is a sacred religious relic and a unique cultural and festival site in Hue City, Vietnam. Hon Chen Temple is the place where Cham people worshiped the goddess Po Nagar in the old days. Then, the Vietnamese who followed the Thien Tien Religion continued to worship her under the confession of Mother Thien Y A Na (the goddess of Cham culture worshiped by the Vietnamese). The temple takes very important roles in the life of the religious spirit of Hue people and the Vietnamese.

The location and way to Hon Chen Temple

Dien Hon Chen is located on Ngoc Tran Mountain in Ngoc Ho Village, Huong Ho Commune, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien – Hue Province, Vietnam. It is 8 km the southwest from the city center of Hue, right on the northern bank of the Perfume River.

To get to the temple, you can move in three ways:

1. The most popular way is to take a dragon boat on the Perfume River. The boat takes a longer time, but it is the most beautiful way to enjoy the peaceful views on the boat sides of the river.

2. You can take a car and boat on the south side of the Perfume River. You go along Le Loi Street to Minh Mang Road, then turn right into QL 49, and after going through the ricefield and pass Thieu Tri Tomb on the right, you have to turn left on a small road to Ben Than (Than boat station). It is time to take a small boat to Hon Chen Temple.

3. The third way is to use a private car on the north side of the Perfume River (Huong Giang). You follow Le Duan Street to Kim Long Road and enter Van Thanh Street. Now, you continue going on the left side, along the river, you will come to Hon Chen Temple.

Legends about Hon Chen Temple

Dien Hon Chen is located on Ngoc Tran Mountain on the north bank of the Huong River. This site is not only a famous landscape of the old Imperial City of Hue but also a place associated with many well-known legends.

The first is the story of King Minh Mang. When he sailed up and dropped a cup of jade into the Perfume River. Thinking that there were no ways to recover it, suddenly a big turtle floated up, and gave him the cup of jade. From this anecdote, this place was called Hoan Chen that means “returning the cup of jade. However, the story was not recorded in the history books, and it is only a product of folk imagination of the local people.

The second legend is contrary to the story of King Minh Mang. The anecdote about King Dong Khanh at Hon Chen Temple is well recorded by Nguyen historians. Accordingly, from 1883 to 1885, due to tortuous circumstances, Dong Khanh king waited for a long time but had not been crowned from the King Tu Duc. He came to Ngoc Tran mountain (Hon Chen) to pray and asked the goddess Thien Y A Na if he could be a king. The goddess said he would be satisfied.

Therefore, after taking the throne in 1886, King Dong Khanh immediately rebuilt this temple spaciously, made more offerings to worship and changed this place’s name to Hue Nam Dien (Hue Nam Palace). That is to express gratitude to the Holy Mother. Hue Nam means is to give grace to the South, and the King of Vietnam.

After renovating Dien Hon Chen, Dong Khanh King himself put the annual ceremony here into the national festival and identified himself as a disciple of the Holy Mother, although the king only referred to the goddess as “Sister”. This is a strange thing because according to the old principles, every king was higher than the gods and goddesses all over the country. But, King Dong Khanh humbled himself as a “younger brother” of the goddess.

And, the third story is popular for the local people. The anecdote is associated with the goddess Ponagar who is famous in Cham Culture. In the past, Hon Chen Jade Temple was a place of worship of the Ponagar goddess of the Cham people. According to legend, she was the daughter of the Heaven Emperor who was sent to real life. She was created the soil and various kinds of plants and rice. The Vietnamese believed that this goddess of the Cham has many similarities with many goddesses of the Vietnamese people in spirit. That is why, later, the Vietnamese received and worshiped her with the name of Thanh Mau Thien Y A Na (or the Goddess Thien Y A Na).

The architecture of Dien Hon Chen Temple

Hon Chen Temple is a collection of relics of about 10 different architectural works located in the middle of the Ngoc Tran mountain side, facing the Perfume River, hidden under the tall trees. The site of the entire works is not very large, the main architecture is Minh Kinh Dai located in the middle of the center; on the right are Quan Cu, Trinh Cat Vien, Thanh Pagoda; on the left are Ngu Hanh Palace, Ngoai Canh, and Thuy Phu altar…

In addition, there are many altars in this area. Minh Kien Dai is the place where the festival was held in Hon Chen, formerly held two times per year on the weekends of March and July of the lunar calendar. Minh Kinh Dai includes three sections, in order from high to low are: the first house (also called Thuong Cung), worshiping the Goddess, Thien Ya Na, Van Huong, Dong Khanh King; Second house worships dozens of different goddesses, which were the place of worshiping objects for the great ceremonial occasions; the third house is the place to celebrate the ceremony.

Minh Kinh Dai is a typical architecture with image of the Phoenix for decoration. On the roofs of the house, the shape of the Phoenix is represented by the fine art of fine-grained mosaics, giving visitors the impression that the birds of the forest are gathering here, signaling the blessings for this sacred land. It is not wrong to say that Hon Chen is the only powerhouse that has an important place in the spiritual life of the Hue people and it is also the only sanctuary in Hue with the combination of royal value and folk beliefs between festivals and mating, and spiritual culture and superstition. This is also the place where fine art decor reached its peak in the late 19th century.
Hon Chen Temple is not only a historical and religious monument but also a scenic spot, a unique cultural attraction that tourists should not be ignored to Hue.

Ritual and festival in Hon Chen Temple

The ritual and festival in Hon Chen Temple are often organized in the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The activities of this temple have happened for three days. During these days, from the early morning, thousands of tourists and the local people come to Hon Chen temple to join the biggest Mother worshipping festival of the year.

Until now, the Hon Chen temple festival is still a folk belief activity of the worshiper who worships the goddess Thien Y A Na. According to the Cham legend, the goddess, who was the son of the Heaven Emperor, sent to the earth. She had created the land, plants, and rice. Thanks to its own holy features, the current Hon Chen is not only a scenic spot but also a unique cultural attraction in Hue. This is the only temple in Hue with the combina of royal etiquette and folk beliefs.

The worshipping and festival activities in Dien Hon Chen consists of 3 parts: The ceremony at Minh Kinh Dai, the procession of the Holy Mother Goddess Thien Y A Na from the main hall into the big boat, and finally the boats following the boat of Holy Mother along the Huong River from Hon Chen temple to Hai Cat village (Huong Tra District), and travel back the main temple.

During the festival days, hundreds of dragon boats come to park right in front of the temple, creating a beautiful colorful picture on the Perfume Rivers. And, thousands of people also carry the offerings, including fruits, caves, paper money, clothes… to worship the goddess at the mountain of the jade cup. Many typical songs that tell about the goddess and religious spirits are showed on the boats, making them sound more sacred.

Culture of worshipping Mother (or Lady) in Hue and Vietnam

“The worship of Mother Goddess in Hue” is the beauty and traditional values in the diverse and unique spiritual life of the local people of the ancient capital, contributing to preserving and promoting the good values of respecting the lady in the normal life.

The worship of the Goddess (or Lady) is one of the popular forms of folk belief in Vietnam, deeply rooted in the worship of mothers of agricultural residents to promote the sacred role and essential function of women in life. We can see the lady or female goddess around Vietnam, for example, Heavenly Lady Pagoda (Thien Mu Pagoda) in Hue City, Thien Y A Na in Hon Chen Temple, Lady Buddha (or Quan zin) over Vietnam, Chua Ba Danh (Danh Lady Pagoda) in Hanoi, or Nui Ba Den (Den Lady Mountain) in Tay Ninh.

In 2016, “Practicing the religion of worshipping of Mau Tam of the Vietnamese people” was recognized by the United Nations of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage representing humanity.

Especially, the worship of the mother in Thua Thien Hue is associated with the Hon Chen temple. Every year in the 7th of the lunar calendar, spiritual rituals of the Mother are held solemnly at Dien Hon Chen. This activity has become a cultural beauty in the spiritual life of people in Thua Thien – Hue.

The worship of Lady in Hue is the convergence of the two streams of worshiping the South and the North. When coming to Hue, this style of worship has some different ways; not worship Tam Phu (three levels) as in the North, people in Hue worships the Four Kingdoms with the concept of goddesses in four realms: Thuong Thien (up-level of heaven), Trung Thien ( Middle Heaven), Thuong Ngan (mountains and forests), and Thuy Phu (water realm). At each realm, there is a top goddess called Holy Mother.

Conclusion Hon Chen Temple is one of the famous attractions in Hue City, which is listed in the religious and cultural sites. For the normal days, it is the best way to visit it by taking a dragon boat from the city center of Hue. On the way, you can see a lot of beautiful scenery, and stop at the famous Holy Lady Pagoda as well.

During the festival at Dien Hon Chen (usually for 3 days during the 7th lunar month or August in solar calendar), booking a dragon boat is very difficult and the price is much much higher. It is because of thousands of people coming here to join the ceremony and festival activities. So, you need to book a boat in advance. Or, an alternative option is to use a car to come to this place as the ways 2 and 3 which Vietnamdrive mentioned in the part of the ways to vicit Hon Chen Temple above.

And, one note to know before coming to Hon Chen Temple is that although this place is a religious site, it is not free to visit as other religious destinations. You have to pay an entrance fee of 50,000VND per adult, and free for children under 1.3 m tall. And, opening time is from 7:00am to 5:00pm every day.

We hope you can have enough details to start visiting this holy place of Hue. So, what do you think about this place? Are you going to explore it?

Source : Vietnamdriver

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