Hue – Tales to tell. Part 1

Two different stories from the Thien Mu Pagoda in the ancient city of Hue :  The Heavenly Lady of Hue & The Most Venerable Monk.

Our third visit to a UNESCO World Heritage site in almost as many weeks. (Ninh Binh and Hanoi being the others).  This place more than any other seems to be full of stories, folklore mixed with history.

Hue and rain go together like, well, Hue and rain. So rather than explore on our own on one grey day we decided to take the most popular Hue tour which covers the main historical sights, via a dragon boat along the river and then by bus. First stop was the Thien Mu Pagoda and it is where the stories began.

The Heavenly Lady of Hue

Long, long ago lived an extremely old lady who lived on the hill here. Nobody knew where she came from and for many years continually told the same story. She told the local people that one day a lord would come to town and build a Buddhist pagoda and this would protect the country’s prosperity. She never stopped telling this story despite her age and defying all belief until one day the feudal Lord Nguyen heard of this and ordered a pagoda to be built.  The old lady then just disappeared and the pagoda ended up being called the pagoda of the Heavenly Lady. It has been damaged, pillaged and demolished over the years and has been rebuilt and repaired by several subsequent Kings, who do not dare to defy the myth of the Heavenly Lady.

The pagoda is 7 stories high and stands at 21m. Guide books suggest this is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam, but this information is so very out of date.  Certainly it is the tallest royal building in Hue, a city full of buildings built to emperors specifications.  To each side stands a pavilion. One pavilion contains a massive stele on the back of a marble turtle, dating back to 1715. The turtle is hand carved and is a symbol of longevity. The pavilion on the other side house a huge brass bell, cast in 1710 and still in use today. It weighs a massive 2052kg. It is said, the chime can be heard from 10km away along the river.


In the main sanctuary are the three buddha figures standing in the temple altar. They are said to be Buddhas of past, present and future. Quite apt for us as we are visiting only a few days from Christmas.


The Most Venerable Monk

An unusual but interesting object to be found in this temple complex is a car.   It is the original car that a monk from this pagoda used to drive to Saigon.   The monk,  Thích Quảng Đức, drove to Saigon in 1963 in order to stage a protest against violation of religious freedom.   He got out of the car amd assumed sitting in a lotus position, set fire to himself and burnt to death.  It is said he meditated so well that he did not move or scream.  The event was captured in a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Malcolm Browne of the event is shown here “Thích Quảng Đức in act of his self-immolation”

Next to the car is a photograph of his heart, which was so pure, it remained intact after the fire and after the subsequent cremation.  Bizarre !

Recently renovated!
Recently renovated!
Original news photo 1963
Original news photo 1963

By coincidence, the corner

Editors note : This post was originally published in xxxx 2015 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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