Hindu Temples in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam1 History of Indians in Vietnam
By 1867, the French had captured the southern third of Vietnam, carving a colony called Chochinchina and establishing a capital at the river port of Saigon. The French developed the foundation for modern infrastructure with the construction of highways, railroads, port facilities, telegraph networks, post offices and banks. In late 19th century, the French brought the Tamils from the tiny French enclaves like Pondicherry and Karikal along the south coast of India. They were engaged in the development of Vietnam. Later the Tamils from the Chettiar community (Nagartar) came to Vietnam especially for money lending business
Apart from conducting business, Nagartars were religious and build Hindu temples for their religious practices. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Nagartars spread Hinduism in South-East Asia. Initially some temples were built for their exclusive use but later they were opened to the public. Their interests in the field of education and maintenance of temples are well documented.
2 Origin of Hindu Temples
The Hindu temples in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are over 100 years. In the late 19th century, the Tamils came from Pondicherry constructed the Mariammam Temple with a raja goopuram. Similarly, in mid 20th century Nagartars built two Hindu temples, namely Sri Thendayutthapani Temple and Sunbramaniar Temple, using Indian craftsmen, builders and sculptors. Similar to the ancient temples in India, these temples followed the principles of temple building. All three temples have large sized halls (mandapams) and inner and outer circumferences. All three temples are in close proximity in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
During the Vietnam war, the unfavourable economic and political situations in South Vietnam caused the exodus of Nagartars. Some of them had Vietnamese wifes. Their offsprings have pure tamil names but they are unable to speak or write in Tamil.
3 Management of the Temples
In April 1975, after the reunification, the socialist government of Vietnam shut the places of worship, including the Hindu temples. Some temples premises were used as factories. I was told that the flat-roof of one Hindu temple was used to dry fish for export. The temples lost all its valuable jewelleries. Around 1993, the temples re-opened for worship as the result of the negotiations between India and Vietnam at the diplomatic level. In one temple, the flags of India and Vietnam are at the entrance, to reinforce the friendship between these two countries.
Caretakers, appointed by the Vietnamese authorities, manage the Hindu temples. The appointments are subject to annual renewal. There are no priests in these temples to conduct regular pujas in a proper manner. The caretakers or their assistants are acting as priests in chanting slokas and performing arathi. The devotees receive vibuthi and prasadam. It is against the temple regulations to accept money directly from the devotees. However, the devotees could make donation into the till box. Since there is no external financial support to the temples, all temple expenses are met from the till collection.
The Mariamman Temple is enjoying a healthy income. Many locals believe in the sacred power of Mariamman and regularly coming to this temple. Other two temples are struggling to meet the expenses due to poor attendance. Sometimes, the Indians expatriate community collects funds to meet the needs of these temples. In one temple, the flat roof leaks badly and the walls are damaged. With the gradual increase in the Indian expatriate population all three temples could expect more financial support in the future.
Tamil devotional songs are continuously played in cassettes in two temples, although Tamil was not understood by many devotees. The decorations of the deities and joss sticks used are similar to those in Chinese temples. The devotees offer flowers and fruits and burn joss sticks, both straight and spiral shaped. Devotees remove their shoes before entering the temples to maintain the purity of the temple.
One of the attractions in the temples is the presence of a number of colourfully painted vahanas for utsava murthis. They may be either made in Vietnam by the Indian craftsmen or brought in from India.
4 Subramaniam Temple
Subramaian Temple is located at 98, Nam Ky Khor Nglina Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. It is in the central business district of Ho Chi Minh City. No historical data available to indicate the year of construction of this temple but the installation of the Navagrahas was carried out in 1928.
The main deity is Lord Muruga with Valli and Deivayaani on his right and left sides, respectively. Lord Ganesh is located on the right side of Muruga. Rahu and Ketu are at the right and left sides of Lord Ganesh. Mouse is placed in-front of Lord Ganesh. Behind the mouse, a palli pedum (sacrificing platform) is situated. On the left side of Muruga, Lord Venkatesh is with Goddess Luxshmi and Andarl on His sides.
Vasantha Mandapam for Utsava Murthis is located at the right side of the entrance. Just outside the graphagraham, well-dressed guardian Idumpan (first person to perform Kavadi to Lord Muruga) shrine is located. Near the temple entrance, a picture of Bala Krishna is housed in a specially made colourful gopurm structure. Red painted horse vahanam is in the main hall of the temple.
The special feature of this temple is the presence of Navagrahas at the right hand side of temple in a tiled platform. Nine grahas are dressed with different coloured silk clothes. Flowers and joss sticks are kept in porcelain containers. Pictures of Shiva, Muruga, Luxshmi, Saraswathy and Krishna are also found in the temple.
Ramasaamy, the caretaker of this temple, was unable to speak in English or in Tamil. His son is Ramassayana. Ramassamy's father is a chettiar and his mother is a Vietnamese. His two sisters, Luxshmi and Sitha, are living in the central part of Vietnam. Ramasaamy had Swami Shivananda's book on Shiva Worship and his son told me that his father use this book for daily prayers. There are several devotional songs books in Tamil donated by the visiting devotees from Singapore and India.
5 Mariamman Hindu Temple
The following description from a book on Vietnam provides some information on the Mariamman temple.
Mariamman Hindu Temple, the only (?) Hindu temple still in use in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a little piece of southern India in the centre of Saigon. Though there are only 50 to 60 Hindus in Saigon - all of them Tamils - this temple, known in Vietnamese as Chua Ba Mariamman, is also considered sacred by many ethnic-Vietnamese and ethnic-Chinese. Indeed, it is reputed to have miraculous powers. The temple was built at the end of 19th century and dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Mariamman.
The lion (Simma Vahanam) to the left of the entrance used to be carried around Saigon in a street procession every autumn. In the shrine in the middle of the temple is Mariamman, flanked by her guardians - Maduraiveeran (to her left) and Pechiamman (to her right). In front of the figure of Mariamman are two lingas. Favourite offerings placed nearby often joss sticks, jasmine, lilies and gladioli. The wooden stairs, on the left as you enter the building, lead to the roof, where you'll find two colourful towers covered with innumerable figures of lions, goddesses and guardians.
After reunification in April 1975, the government took over the temple and turned part of it into a factory for joss sticks. Another section was occupied by a company producing seafood export - the seafood was dried in the sun on the roof. The whole temple is to be returned to the local Hindu community.
Mariamman Temple is only three blocks west of Ben Thanh Market, at 45 D Truong Dinh. It is open from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Take off your shoes before stepping onto the slightly raised platform.
The main deity of this temple is Goddess Mariamman, another aspect of Parvathy. As the mother of universe, Parvathy is amma and prayed as Amman. Utsapa amman is placed next to the main deity. During the festivals she is placed on the Simha vahana and taken on procession along the roads of Ho Chi Minh City.
In addition, my observations are as follows: At the outer hall, Goddess Amman’s (Parvathy) sons Ganesha and Muruga are on her right and left, respectively. The Rajagopuram of this temple is about 12m high with a number of statues. Colourful statues of Amman, Luxshmi, Ganesha, Muruga, angels and dancing girls decorate the entrance of the inner hall.
The attractive features of this temple are the beautifully sculptured Amman in her different forms as well as other deities. They are located permanently on the surround outer walls of the temple. They include Nadarajar, Param Sivam, Brahman, Mahavishnu, Kaliamma, Biramasakthi, Samundi, Thirumagal, Mageswari, Meenadchi, Valambigai, Andal, Kamadchiamman, Karumari-amman, Sivagami and Parvathy with Murugan in her lap.
Iyaaswamy Devar from Tamil Nadu is the caretaker of this temple. Devotees experienced the power of Mariamman for a number of years. Hence, this temple is most popular with the locals. This temple is now taking the necessary steps to bring a priest from India to conduct proper puja in a regular basis. I was told that with many others like Mr. Chidambaram from Tamil Nadu has shown significant interest in the temple affairs.
6 Sri Thendayyutthapani Temple
Sri Thendayutthapani temple is located at 66 Ton That Thiep, Quan 1 (District 1), Ho Chi Minh City. At the entrance of the temple, the writings on the name board indicate are as follows:
CHU AN GIAO
SRI THENDAY YUTTHAPANI TEMPLE
66 Ton That Thiep, Phuong Ben Nghe,
Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Inside the temple, the regulations of the temple, both in Vietnamese and English, are displayed. The writings in English are as follows:
The Hindus Sri Thendayyutthapani Temple worshipping devotees are advised to comply with the religious belief.
Opening hours from 6 am to 7 pm specially on the first day 15th (lunar calendar) and on Hindu festive days are extended until 8 pm.
The Temple management holds in high esteem those who pay a visit to this sacred shrine and as well as for the believers.
Personnel of this Temple are not authorised to receive any amount of money offered by the visitors or to accept any tips (Please drop your offering in the charity box).
Everybody is requested to protect the temple property located in shrine and in the environment.
Please observe order, keep silence, make no noise that will interfere with worship and others.
Please do not enter the Almighty shrine through the inner sanctum.
THANKS FOR YOUR COMPLIANCE WITH THE ABOVE REGULATIONS.
Board of Management,
Nov. 15th, 1993.
Beautiful gopurum is on the flat roof of the temple. The statues of several Hindu gods and goddesses are on all sides of the gopurum. The following main scene were well carved and painted at the bottom level of the gopurum:
Four handed Subramanya seated with Valli (blue coloured indicated her hunter race) and Deivayanai on his right and left sides and a snake and peacock in front of Muruga.
Siva with Parvathy and Ganesha on his left and right sides and a mouse in front of Ganesha,
Blue coloured Rama holding a bow in his hand with Sita and Luxmana on his left and right sides and Hanuman sitting at the foot of Rama.
Brahma (four faces and four hands) with his consort Saraswathy.
On the top level of gopurum, the following carved figures can be seen:
Arumugaswamy (Muruga with six faces) sitting with Valli and Deivayanai.
Shiva on a sitting position with one leg down and resting on a demon.
Mahavishnu in sitting position with his consort Luxshimi.
In addition to these carvings, there are several other statues were present. Several peacocks, Idumpan and other guardian figures etc. The main deity of this temple is Thendayatthapani (another name for Lord Muruga) with spear (Vel) in his hand. In front of the arthimula deity, shrines for Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna are located on the left and right sides, respectively. On walls of the temple, very big framed pictures of Mahathma Ghandi, Swami Vivekanada, Rabindranath Tagr, Thiruvalluvar, Abdul Kalam Azad, Nehru, Mahavishu. Narayana on Garuda and Palani anadavar are found. Another attraction in this temple is the presence of four beautifully painted vahanas (vehicles) to take the deities on procession during festival days. They are yellow cow, swinging red horse, brown sheep and fiercely looking Idumpan. The pictures of four Saiva saints namely, Thirugnanasampathar, Thirunavukarasar, Sundarar and Manicavasagar are placed for the prayers. This temple has both inner and outer paths for the devotees to go around the deities.
Muthiah is the caretaker of the Sri Thendayutthapani temple. I spoke to his father, Mr. Palanivelu aged 78 yrs. He speaks fluent Tamil amd his parents are Subbiah Chettiyar and Umayarl. He is married to a Vietnamese and has three children, Muttiah, Subramanium and Arunachalam. The whole family is dedicated to the temple service. Mr. Palanivelu spoke to me in length about the difficulties his children faced in getting jobs and managing the temple.
It is an unforgettable experience for me to see three Hindu temples in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. These beautiful temples are the treasures of the Hindus. Since the Indian population is not large enough, these temples are struggling to meet the maintenance expenses. Most of the devotees visiting these temples are Vietnamese. There is no official financial support to these temples and there are no priests in these temples. It is the responsibility of the Hindu community in Vietnam to look after these temples. The political set-up in Vietnam is different to other countries and this has some effect on temple management.
With the Divine powers of Lord Muruga and Divine Mother Mariamma I have no doubt that these temples will flourish in the future. All Hindus must pay a visit to these temples in Vietnam whenever they get the opportunity to go to Vietnam. Vietnam is now welcoming foreigners for joint-venture projects.
(This is a part of the article about Hinduism in Viet Nam in Shaivam.org - Devoted to God Shiva)
Photos taken this afternoon have been added