Ba Chua Xu
The Lady of the Realm
Ba Chua Xu is among Vietnam’s most beloved modern goddesses and the subject of a huge, annual pilgrimage. Ba Chua Xu is matron of Vietnamese at home and abroad, but she potentially fulfills requests for anyone, and her own ancestry is disputed.
There are as many legends of Ba Chua Xu and opposing stories, claims, and theories as there are for Black Madonnas. One legend explains that two or three centuries ago, a girl was possessed by a spirit identifying herself as the “Lady of the Realm.” She revealed the location of her statue on Mount Sam and demanded that it be brought down to the village and venerated. People followed the spirit’s directions; the statue was found, but forty men were unable to lift it.
The goddess again spoke through a medium,stating that only nine virgin girls would be permitted to carry her image. The girls easily lifted it, carrying it until they reached the place where the shrine now stands. The statue once again became too heavy, signaling the goddess’ desire to stay in that place. (Alternative legends suggest that the goddess first made contact in dreams or that the statue emerged from the sea or was found growing from mountain rocks.)
Ba Chua Xu is the matron of Vietnamese refugees. Those desperate to flee invoked her help, as for instance the boat-people exodus of the late seventies and early eighties. Afterward, they returned (if only for pilgrimage purposes) with gifts for her shrine.
The statue was old and badly damaged, and so its face was repainted to enhance its beauty. It was dressed in lavish garments. (Some scholars believe this statue is really an ancient Khmer image of Shiva, although this theory is rejected by devotees.) The statue venerated on Sam Mountain is believed to be over eight thousand years old.
The Vietnamese government has periodically discouraged or even actively suppressed divination and spirit mediums at Ba Chua Xu’s shrine at Sam Mountain. She is traditionally served by transvestite spirit mediums, but this, too, has periodically been discouraged by secular authorities.
The age of the original shrine built for Ba Chua Xu is unknown. (It may be older than the several hundred years suggested by the myth.) It was renovated in the late nineteenth century and then rebuilt to present size in 1972. Since the early nineties, this shrine has become the most visited religious site in southern Vietnam, receiving over one million visitors annually.
Located in Vinh Te village at the base of Mount Sam in the western regions of the Mekong Delta near the Vietnam-Cambodia border, the shrine is in a frontier region, an ethnic crossroads where borders have historically been contested. Ironically or not, although Ba Chua Xu is now intensely associated with Vietnamese nationalism, there are claims that she was originally a goddess of ethnic groups conquered by the Vietnamese. Ba Chua Xu is variously described as originally being:
• A Vietnamese woman (a member of royalty or a mountain woman who helped a general)
• A Cham princess
• A Khmer or Thai woman
• An avatar of Ma Zu
According to legend, anyone who offers incense to Ba Chua Xu at her shrine during her festival will attain their desires and have their petition granted.
Ba Chua Xu’s tremendous popularity is based on her track record for responding to petitions and protecting her devotees. There is virtually nothing that Ba Chua Xu does not do. She provides academic and business success, health, fertility, romantic and domestic happiness. She is an oracular spirit, answering questions and offering information via mediums. She oversees commerce and travel.
Ba Chua Xu will grant any request provided it is offered with respect. However, promisesto Ba Chua Xu must be kept. She is a benevolent, responsive, generous spirit but is also authoritative and volatile, easily angered by perceived insults, disrespect, and especially theft of her offerings. (She has a lavish temple filled with valuable offerings in a region where many are impoverished.) She seriously enforces all deals made with her. If she comes through, you must, too, or she will exact punishment. “Minor” punishment includes bad dreams or severe headaches, but she also Demonstrates anger via loss of home, business, or money. She may take back whatever she has given and then some. Ba Chua Xu will inflict bodily harm and has a reputation for wringing necks.
Sacred place: The lavish Ba Chua Xu temple in Vinh Te, Vietnam, is flanked by two halls displaying offerings made to the goddess.
Her primary festival is from the 23rd to 27th day of Vietnam’s fourth lunar month, with the 25th being the main festival day. On the first night of her festival, her image is bathed in perfumed water and dressed in new clothes. Her old clothes are ripped to pieces that are distributed as amulets, which allegedly possess the power to banish evil spirits and preserve good health.
Small shrines resembling little houses placed in the corners of homes, gardens, or orchards
Incense; clothing for her image; roast pork; fresh water; fruit; flowers; candles; paper clothing; salt; gold leaf; her favour is earned by sponsoring entertainment at her shrine: dancers, singers, actors, and acrobats are present, waiting to serve.
Ba Chua Kho; Black Madonna; Dinh Cô; Ma Zu; Thien Y A Na; and the Glossary entry for Possession
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.