Growing up, we’ve more or less been made familiar with the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Their counterparts in Asian culture, however, are not given as much importance. Hence, when I first went to China, I was not familiar with the local lore and legends. For instance, when I went to see the goddess Mazu, whose temple was a very well – known sight in Guangzhou, I knew next to nothing about her. It was only after I visited her temple that I gained interest and started researching.
The temple of the Goddess Mazu is located in a palace complex on the eastern slope of the Dajiao Mountain in the seaside town of Nansha. It faces the Lingding Ocean and the mouth of the Pearl River. The fact that the temple is situated near bodies of water is relevant because Mazu is known in Chinese culture as the goddess of the sea who protects seafarers from harm.
Unlike the gods of Western culture, Mazu was actually born human. She was born in China’s Fujian Province in town called Meizhou in the year 960 and was known as Lin Moniang. Her father and brothers were fishermen and at the age of 15, she learned how to swim and became an excellent swimmer. She was known to wear a red robe while standing near the shore to guide fishermen home.
As legend would have it, a typhoon raged in her village one day while her father and brothers where still at sea. Moniang, fearing for their lives, stood on the shore to guide them while caught in trance induced by her praying for their safety. In another version of the legend, Moniang dreamed about her four brothers while she was sitting in a trance in front of a loom. When her mother saw her, she tried to wake her up and thus, she was not able to save all of her relatives. Depending on the version, her brothers died while her father returned safely to tell the town of the miracle.
When she died, people remembered her as the girl in the red robe roaming the seas. Thus, during the Song Dynasty (960 AD to 1279 AD), worship of her started in the Fujian province and spread across China and even Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, there’s actually a Mazu temple in San Fernando, La Union.
When I told my Chinese coworker about our intention to visit the temple, she shared with me another belief – they say that if a woman goes to see the goddess, she will become even more beautiful. Now that’s a nice legend, don’t you think? To gaze at the face of the goddess is to open your eyes to your own beauty. 🙂
The Tin Hau palace in Guangzhou was reconstructed in 1994. However, you can find remnants of the old temple, which was first built in the Ming Dynasty and renovated during the Qing dynasty. The old temple had tunnels like the one in the photo above. Passing through it was quite an eerie experience.
If you ever find yourself in Guangzhou, be sure to visit this temple. It’s quite far from the city center but it’s worth it. Getting there is easy too as it’s accessible via Metro and bus.
Take the subway Line 4 to Jinzhou station and take Exit A. Walk straight ahead after you get off the exit and cross the first road ahead. Take bus 18 to Nansha Tin Hau Palace.