Located beside the picturesque Huong River, Thien Mu Buddhist temple, with its ancient architecture, adds its charm to this beautiful natural setting.
Thien Mu pagoda’s legend
The oldest pagoda in Hue is Thien Mu whose establishment is associated with the early actions of the first Nguyen Lord in Dang Trong (South Vietnam).
This legend relates how, when Nguyen Hoang, first Lord of Nguyen Dynasty, was sent to Thuan Hoa (now Central Vietnam) to rule this area. He himself made a survey of the terrain to choose a site for settling down.
As he rode his horse upstream along the Huong River side he saw a small hillock beside the river. Its terrain looked like a dragon turning its head back. This hill was called Ha Khe.
The local people told a story that every night an old lady in a red blouse and green trousers appeared here saying that a true Lord would come to this place and build a pagoda for the prosperity of the country.
Upon hearing that, he constructed a renovation for this Cham temple and named it Thien Mu Son (or Pagoda of the Celestial Lady according to Wikipedia) ever since.
However, it was not until 1601 that Thien Mu pagoda was built on Ha Khe Hill following the decision of Lord Nguyen Hoang.
Construction of Thien Mu Tu
With the development, prosperity and spread of Buddhism in Dang Trong, the pagoda was rebuilt on a larger scale in the reign of Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu (1691-1725).
In 1710, this Lord ordered that a big bell with an inscribed teaching be cast. And in 1714, he again had the pagoda renovated and many more architectural structures added.
These new additions included the Thien Vuong, Dai Hung and Thuyet Phap buildings, Tang Kinh Pavilion, Monks’ rooms and a house for religious meditation. Unfortunately, many of these buildings no longer exist today.
The soul of Hue ancient city…
Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu himself wrote a narrative description describing the construction of the buildings here, praising the philosophy of Buddhism, and relating the merits of the Buddhist monk Thach Liem, who played a vital role in helping Lord Nguyen boost Buddhism in Dang Trong.
The inscribed stele was placed on a big stone turtle with simple decorations which enhanced its beauty. You will still see this when visiting this religious attraction in Hue.
Thien Mu under Nguyen Dynasty
With its enlarged scale and natural landscape, this was the most beautiful pagoda in Dang Trong at that time. During the ups and downs of history, Thien Mu was once the place for sacrifices to the Deity under Tay Son’s reign in 1788 and was restored many times under the Nguyen reign.
In 1862, during the reign of Tu Duc, who prayed for a child, the Emperor was afraid that the word “Thien” profaned Heaven because it means heavenly.
Thus, he renamed the Pagoda as Linh Mu which means Holy Lady. It was not until 1869 that the Emperor allowed the reuse of the old name Thien Mu meaning Heavenly Lady. The Pagoda is still known by both names today.
Chanting monks in Thien Mu temple
In 1844, on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Queen Thuan Thien Cao Hoang Hau (Gia Long’s wife and Thieu Tri’s grandmother), the pagoda was again renovated together with the construction of Tu Nhan Tower (later renamed Phuoc Duyen), Huong Nguyen temple and two steles inscribed with Thieu Tri Emperor’s poems.
In 1904, a terrible storm seriously damaged the Pagoda. Many structures were ruined and Huong Nguyen Temple was destroyed.
Through many re-constructions and restorations Thien Mu Pagoda still retains valuable architectural structures such as Phuoc Duyen Tower, Dai Hung, Dia Tang and Quan Am temples, the stone steles and bronze bells.
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Phuoc Duyen Tower is a famous symbolic link with Thien Mu Pagoda. It is 21 metres high, has seven storeys, is located in front of the pagoda and is visible from the Huong River. There is a statue of Buddha on each of the seven storeys.
Inside the tower a spiral staircase leads to the top storey where formerly a gold Buddha statue was displayed. However, it was stolen during the French Siege of Hue in 1885. Huong Nguyen temple is in front of the Tower. This is not available to date, unfortunately.
See more: Hue Walk of Revolution
Thien Mu Pagoda is also home to many valuable antiques of both historical and artistic value and importance, such as the statues Ho Phap, Thap Vuong, Di Lac Buddha, the three Buddhas symbolizing Past, Present and Future Lives, lacquered boards and panels with parallel texts that mark the glorious periods in the history of the Pagoda.
All the young monks who currently reside here carefully tend a garden of flowers and plants every day. There is a bonsai of the ancestor of Vietnam Tuong (Classical drama), Dao Tan, situated next to the car left in 1963 by the Superior Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, before burning himself to protest the policy of Ngo Dinh Diem regime in suppressing Buddhism.
Read more: The Buddhist Crisis in Hue 1963
At the end of the garden is the Tower of the Superior Buddhist monk Thich Don Hau, a famous head of Thien Mu Pagoda who devoted his whole life to the promotion of Buddhism and the good of society.
The sound of Thien Mu bell is like the soul of Hue, ever resounding over the Huong River flow winding its way in front of the Hue Citadel to the sea. It resonates in the hearts and minds of the people and of visitors to Hue, the ancient capital.
If you ever comes to the ancient city, slow yourself at this historical place in Hue. The 700 year history of Hue will back-flashing as you walk in this holy land of Hue.
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