Related Posts with Thumbnails

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Of Door Gods And Mazu

Right smack in the middle of the central business district there is a resplendent Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea - Mazu. Before Singapore went into land reclamation, this temple faced the sea. Voyagers from China would disembark and having survived the perils of the journey, they would give thanks at this temple.

There are many deities in this temple, one of which was Mazu's (the Goddess of the Sea) fiancé - the Heavenly Sage Bao Sheng. Mazu was supposed to marry the Heavenly Sage Bao Sheng but she backed out at the last minute after she saw an ewe give birth. I quite understand her sentiments and I reckon that if I had seen an ewe give birth, I doubt I would have had the courage to marry and have children either. It is fortunate for my progeny that ewes are not commonly found in Singapore. Whatever it is, she made Bao Sheng very angry (which also is understandable) and he proceeded to send rains along to her birthday party to ruin her hair and make-up. Even in those days, women thought much of their hair and make-up. She, in turn, sent strong winds along to his birthday party to blow off his hat. For this reason, it is said that one should expect rain on Mazu's birthday and strong winds on Bao Sheng's birthday.

Mazu was born Lin Mo Niang in the Fujian province (a coastal province in China). She was a real person who had such great societal impact that she was deified upon her death. I just realised that many Chinese deities were REAL people with historical contributions. They were politicians, civil servants, Generals or even cops! 

The story goes that Lin Mo Niang, at age 16, fell into a trance whilst weaving and she saw her father and brother at sea, battling a storm. She tried to save them both but her Mother interrupted her trance and she dropped her brother, who drowned. Her Father came home safely, reporting that his daughter's apparition had saved him from drowning.

In a society where women were chattel, Lin Mo Niang shot straight up the societal totem pole and achieved influence and power surpassing even the men. I can quite understand why. Fujian was a coastal province with fishing as a major industry. Every family had members who went out to sea. A woman with supernatural powers to save men from drowning was to be honoured and revered beyond the ordinary.

I guess that was why she was allowed to break a serious wedding engagement (after all guests had been notified... and perhaps, the banquet paid for) to a man who was powerful in his own right. Bao Sheng is today revered as the God of Medicine.  He was a skilled physician called upon to heal the Emperor Song Renzong's Mother. People today pray to him for healing.

Both Mazu and Bao Sheng lived in the 10th century.

These 2 deities were called Qi Ye (7th Lord) and Ba Ye (8th Lord) in life. They were cops in FuZhou. The story goes that these 2 were good friends and sworn brothers. On an outing one day, the sky turned dark and rain was imminent. Qi Ye suggested that he would go back to get umbrellas. Ba Ye waited below a bridge. Once home, Qi Ye was struck with an excruciating bellyache. As he was relieving himself, the heavens broke apart and rain poured onto the earth. The river rose up around Ba Ye, who refused to leave the meeting place for fear that Qi Ye would miss him. He hung on to the bridge for dear life and when the waters rose, he drowned. This is why he is depicted with a black face. When Qi Ye arrived and saw that his friend had perished, he was overcome with guilt (at having tarried so long in the privy) that he hanged himself. This why he is depicted with his tongue sticking out.

These 2 deities capture criminal ghosts and bring them back to the Hades court for trial.

Then, there are the door deities. The one just above is a scholar door deity. These are painted onto internal doors such that they look kindly upon the backs of people who enter the house and make their way to through the courtyards. These deities invite good luck, scholarship and friendship into a home.

This is a warrior door deity. They are painted in pairs on the outer doors and their job is to keep bad spirits out of the home. Again, these door deities were real people, deified after death. During the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Tang Taizong honoured his 2 favourite Generals by having their likenesses painted on his doors.

The past is truly a different country. People do things differently there.... except for the value women put (Goddess or not) of hair and make-up.