Bach Ma Temple is a small building located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, capital city of Vietnam. Bach Ma Temple is commonly identified as the oldest temple in Hanoi. One theory is that the temple was built during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To, who reigned from 1009 to 1028. Another theory is that the temple was built earlier in the 9th Century under the direction of a Chinese Mandarin and then renamed by Emperor Ly Thai To.
Emperor Ly Thai To is credited with founding the city of Hanoi in 1010, although archaeological evidence suggests that the area where Hanoi is now located had been inhabited since at least 3,000 BC.
About Bach Ma Temple
Although Emperor Ly Thai To was a committed believer in Buddhism, the Bach Ma Temple was founded as a place of worship to the gods of what is commonly termed ‘Vietnam Folk Religion’. As is the case in many South East Asian countries, Buddhism in Vietnam coexists alongside much older religious and supernatural beliefs.
Legend of the White Horse
Bach Ma Temple has four shrines. The most prominent of these shrines is the shrine to the White Horse. Indeed, the name ‘Bach Ma’ means ‘White Horse’. According to legend, Emperor Ly Thai To was having great difficulties in constructing the city walls because the foundations frequently gave way on account of the marshy ground. The legend is that a white horse appeared and gave guidance to the Emperor in how and where to construct city walls which would not collapse.
Shrine to the Long Do God
Another shrine in the temple pays homage to the Long Do God. Again there are at least two competing explanations of who Long Do was. One explanation, and this is the explanation given on the information board at the Bach Ma Temple, is that the Long Do God is the god of Long Do mountain, one of the many deities in Vietnamese Folk Religion. The other theory is that Long Do is a mysterious character who appeared one night to Cao Pian, the 9th Century Chinese Mandarin some believe to have built the temple, and that Pian built the temple to appease Long Do following a fierce storm which started the next night.
Shrine to Mẫu Thoải
The third shrine in the Bach Ma Temple is to Mẫu Thoải, who is a more identifiable deity from Vietnamese Folk Religion. Mẫu Thoải is the goddess of the heavenly water palace, which is one of the four spiritual realms in Vietnamese Folk Religion.
The fourth shrine, dedicated to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius, is a later addition to the temple. The shrine to Confucius was added to the temple in 1839 during major renovations.
Other features of the temple to look out for are the substantial wooden posts and rafters supporting the structure, the ornate gold leaf decoration on the wooden panelling and the ornamental garden in the courtyard.
Location of Bach Ma Temple
Bach Ma Temple is located at 76 Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam.