On Lang Pagoda located on Lao Tu street of Saigon’s District 5, is remarkable for its extensive line up of deities, currently totaling 16 Chinese Buddhist divinities.
On Lang Pagoda in Saigon now dedicated to Chinese Sea Goddess Mazu:
On Lang Pagoda, built 3 centuries ago, is considered by the ethnic Chinese community in Saigon as a sacred destination that offers protection and good luck, courtesy of Goddess Mazu.
The pagoda, located on Lao Tu Street of Saigon’s District 5, was built in 1740 by businesspeople from China’s Fujian Province who settled in Cho Lon quarter.
Initially intended for community gatherings, the establishment, now dedicated to Chinese Sea Goddess Mazu, became a formal pagoda engaged in spiritual activities.
The shrine principally worships Mazu, who occupies central position on the main altar. Tutelary deity of seafarers, it is believed that the goddess casts a protective net over fishermen, sailors and those going away to distant shores for business.
Later on, Guanyin, Chinese goddess of compassion, became another deity of the pagoda. She is worshipped for luck in commerce, serenity and good health. As On Lang gradually grew into a local sanctuary, the local Chinese community also called it Quan Am Pagoda.
On Lang Pagoda is remarkable for its extensive line up of deities, currently totaling 16 Chinese Buddhist divinities.
The deities also include mythological figures in Chinese folk religion like the monkey king Sun Wukong, deified Song Dynasty politician Bao Zheng, God of Culture and Literature Wen Qu, the Eighteen Arhats, and Goddess of the Underworld Dia Mau Nuong Nuong.
“Many venerate Sun Wukong for intelligence and wisdom, and he possesses supreme power to help and protect people,” said a local worshipper who did not want to be named.
A group of people participate in the “villain hitting” ritual, an activity that consists of using footwear to repeatedly whack human-shaped paper pieces on the ground. This folk sorcery is also prevalent in Guangdong and Hong Kong and listed as an “intangible cultural heritage” by the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau.
The paper figures represent evil energy and the action of crushing them symbolizes protection from bad happenings in real life.
“I have visited many Chinese Buddhist religious sites, but I have only seen the practice of evil stomping at On Lang Pagoda,” said Ngoc Anh, one of the visitors.
This practice typically takes place in front of the Tiger altar on Jingzhe Day, translated as the awakening of hibernating insects, which signifies the weather getting warmer. On the Gregorian calendar, this day usually falls on March 5 or 6.
Tangerine and buns with Chinese terms of blessing, wealth or fortune imprinted in red are most commonly offered in worship. Exceptionally, at the Tiger altar, raw, weighty chops of pork are offered.
For luck in romance, a roll of red thread with its needle already threaded is placed on top of the typical fruit-bun offerings. This arrangement is placed at the Hoa Phan phu nhan altar by those praying for a smooth, fulfilling love life.
The On Lang Pagoda complex covers 1,800 square meters of land. Its architecture replicates ancient Chinese shrines and carries Fujianese elements with its curved roofs, arched ceilings, and exquisite, coorful patterns in ceramic running along the surface. Fujian Province is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse provinces in China.
The Chinese-style Buddhist landmark has been recognized as a national relic and it attracts thousands of devout citizens as well as other visitors and foreign tourists.
“Right off the bat the pagoda caught our interest with its colors and distinctive features. We were in a taxi wandering around but stopped immediately when the site appeared,” a married couple from England said as they marvel at the circles of incense smoke above their heads.