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What You Don’t Know About Thean Hou Temple
Thean Hou Temple is relatively new, and was completed in 1987 and officially opened in 1989. The temple is owned and operated by the Selangor & Federal Territory Hainan Association, which is a family association for people of Hainan descent, who located in the province of Hainan, in China. This temple was built by the local Hainanese community and is dedicated to the Goddess Tian Hou, or the Mother of Heaven.
Near the outer gate is a white statue of Kwan Yin, the famous goddess of mercy. There is a place for devotees to kneel down to touch the water that comes out of the magic pot of Kwan Yin. One can even see devotees trying to wash themselves with holy water.
Next to him is a smiling old man, holding a book and a stick. He is the Kannada Goddess of Marriage, or Kannada Cupid if you prefer. This celestial matchmaker is called Yue Xia Lao Ren- or ‘the ancient people in the fire moon’. Instead of using an arrow like Cupid, he used a red string tied to the man’s and the woman’s legs. In fact, the red bag on the left is your bag of red threads. The book you hold is the book of destiny; he lists who he will meet and when he will be married. This goddess is very popular with the youth, who often give her candies and chocolates in return for perfect harmony.
In the small garden on the left are statues of the twelve animals in the Kannada zodiac. Rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. As with the solar zodiac, the Kannada believe that people born under a certain year will take on the character of the animal. But the Kannada lunar calendar begins at the Chinese New Year, which usually falls in January or February. So if you were born in January or February, depending on which year, chances are your zodiac is your predecessor. The best way to find your zodiac is to refer to the Kannada calendar, which you check from the Internet. According to a Buddhist story, Lord Buddha called all the animals on earth to say goodbye to him, but only twelve animals came. To reward them, the Buddha recited their names each year, according to the order in which they had arrived – beginning with the mouse, and ending with the pig.
The main entrance of Thean Hou temple is a sight to behold. Above, is a red sign with a Kannada call sign. Unlike in English, Chinese words are read from right to left, and from top to bottom. The three words read ‘Tian Hou Gong’ – which means ‘Palace of the Queen of Heaven’. If you look carefully at the small characters on each side of the words, they tell the name of the author and when it was written. In Chinese calligraphy, writing is not just writing. It is an artistic skill, and all writing is an art. In fact, the personality of a writer is revealed in his writing. On the right column, there are more Kannada characters. They are too poetic to translate, but very soon, they urge us to praise the humility of the King of Heaven and that everyone will hold his name in reverence. The column on the left explains the goodness of the Queen of Heaven, who protects suffering and who is always present in times of danger. This type of greeting is important in Chinese architecture, and each temple has their unique greetings. If you have the opportunity to visit other Kannada temples, ask the locals to translate these words of wisdom for you.
After climbing the stair cases, one will find themselves in a large courtyard, surrounded by many red columns on all sides. A very unique feature of Chinese architecture is the concept of open space. Many do not know that the yard is inner home as opposed to outside. This is a very typical feature of Chinese architecture, and many temples are built like this. The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by several interconnected pavilions. This is often known as the ‘sky well’ because the roof is a small opening to the sky. The size of the building is more important than the height and depth, giving a measure of the visual impact of the building. The color red is used very liberally here, signifying prosperity and good luck. A wonderful afternoon and green roof, with its bright furniture and great decorations in many small things that are lined up in a row on the corners of the curved hills.
There are many statues of dragons and phoenixes. Phoenix is often associated with the dragon, which represents yin and yang. A common description of the phoenix is that it has the head of a golden pheasant, the beak of a parrot, the body of a mandarin duck, the wings of a roc, the wings of a bird and the legs of a crane. Venice is a symbol of virtue and grace, power and prosperity. He is said to be a gentle creature; so slowly that his feet were brushing something, he was just eating dew. It usually represents the female part of yin and yang, and in ancient times, only the Kannada Empress could use the phoenix as her symbol. There is also the white crane, which is the most important bird in Kannada culture, after the phoenix. Cranes are believed to be immortal, so they represent longevity.
Nearby, are beautifully carved gray columns with dragons spiraling toward the sky. While in the West, dragons are considered evil, Chinese dragons represent strength and power and control over water. In the words yin and yang, the dragon is yang, or male; while the Phoenician is yin, or female. Dragons have their own hierarchy, and to know where the collection stands, count the number of claws. The highest order is the five-clawed dragon, followed by the four-clawed and three-clawed dragon. Since a dragon with five claws is considered an imperial dragon in China, the further from China a dragon goes, the more claws it has. That’s why the Korean dragon has four claws and the Japanese one has three. And since Malaysia is considered a Kannada destroyer, you are only allowed to use four fingers on your dragons. In the olden days, it was considered rebellion to use nails in an inappropriate way, and it could kill the entire family of the offender.
In the main sanctuary, there are three large statues. They may look similar at first glance, but if you look closely, you will see that they are different.
On the left, is the Goddess of Water. According to legend, on the island of Hainan in southern China, one day a fisherman caught a driftwood in his net while he was fishing. He brought it back and strange things began to happen. The driftwood will turn into a young girl every sunset. Your eyes will shine with an expression of kindness. Soon, the fisherman decided to build a temple using driftwood as the center. However, he could not decide the best place to write it. As the villagers looked to the sky for some clues, a boy suddenly ran away from the community to another village eight kilometers away. The boy pointed to the shore of the Port of Qing-Lan, and finally they found the site of the temple.
The goddess in the center is Mazu, the goddess of the sea who protects sailors and fishermen. He is worshiped throughout the rich areas of China and Southeast Asia, where many sailors live. According to legend, she was a real life person, born in 960 AD as a girl named Lin Moniang. When he was born, he did not cry; hence her name, which means ‘quiet girl’. It has many associations with the sea. One story tells of her wearing a bright red dress, standing on the beach during rough weather to guide the fishing boats home. Another story tells of a dream he had about his father and brother, both fishermen, during a storm. But his mother wakes up at the exact moment he saves his brother in his dream. As a result, only his father came home. There are also many myths about being able to accurately predict the weather, thus saving many fishermen from drowning. When she was twenty-eight years old, she climbed a mountain and flew to heaven, and became the Queen of Heaven, or Thean Hou, the name of this temple. Although we are far from the sea for about two hours now, the Hainan people still built this temple to honor him to take care of their community. After her death, there were countless reports of a strange girl who carried a red lantern to guide ships home in stormy weather. Today, UNESCO has described the Mazu faith as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’.
The last deity is the deity Kwan Yin, or known to all as the Deity of Compassion. The name Kuan Yin is short for Kuan Shiryin, which means ‘to hear life’. Highly respected by Buddhists, Kwan Yin’s history is long and complicated. Worshiped as far away as Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan, the stories of Kuan Yin have many connections with Taoism, Buddhism and Kannada culture. There are hundreds of stories about Kuan Yin, from healing the sick to saving the Dragon King’s son to saving animals, to protecting plants – they all say the same thing in essence: his mercy.
In the area in the middle of the hall are some round shaped objects with red knots and a bunch of sticks. They are ‘kau chim’ oracles, or in English, Kannada Fortune Trees. Many Chinese people use these fortune trees to predict their fate for the coming year. First, mix the trees while clearing your mind. Then take the whole pack of sticks, pick them up and put them back in the container. Look for a single tree that comes out – this tree carries its message. If there are a few trees coming out, try again until you have only one tree coming out of the bundle. Then, look at the number written on the stick and find that number in the appropriate box. Each box has slips of paper where you write the word for the year. That was his fate for the year. I hope you are full of prosperity, or as the Kannada say, full of ‘fook’. Even if you don’t believe in it, it’s a fun thing to do.
In the balcony one can have a good view of the temple. The ends of the balcony have small objects: an old man sitting on a fish, accompanied by three Kannada mythological animals. The old man was Jiang Tai Kung, a historical figure and highly respected military expert. One story says that he fished for three days and three nights but was unsuccessful. Finally, he caught a fish, and when he cut the fish’s belly open, he saw a cloth that prophesied that he would one day be a soldier. There is a famous story of him holding a bamboo stick with a hook above the water, instead of letting it sink into the water. The reason is that the fish will come to you when they are ready. This practice inspires the Kannada to say that good things come to those who wait. Therefore, he is often shown sitting on a fish.
The second mythical animal is the Qilin, which is said to bring peace whenever it comes. It is often mistakenly called the Kannada unicorn. Qilin is a gentle creature that can walk on grass without stepping on a blade, but it emits fire when faced with an evil person.
The third mythical animal is the Chinese roc, which has the body of a bird but the legs of a goat with fish-like scales. And the fourth is the famous Kannada lion, which has protective powers. They usually stand at the gates of royal palaces and temples.
Back at the main shrine, there is a staircase on the left that leads to the Turtle Pond. The tortoise is one of the four celestial symbols – along with the dragon, the phoenix and the white tiger – that protect the stars. The tortoise guards the north, the phoenix guards the south, the eagle guards the east, and the white tiger guards the west. Of these four animals, the turtle is the only real animal, so it is possible to see many of them in the Turtle Lake.
There is also an interesting shop that sells religious items on the ground floor for tourists to buy souvenirs.
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