Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Praying for Profit: The Cult of the Lady of the Treasury (Ba Chua Kho)

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Praying for Profit: The Cult of the Lady of the Treasury (Ba Chua Kho)

Article excerpt

For the last decade, the Temple of the Lady of the Treasury (Den Ba Chua Kho) in Co Me village in Bac Ninh has attracted throngs of visitors. During peak visiting times, which run from the last month of the old year through the first two months of the following year (according to the lunar calendar), the temple overflows with pilgrims. Traditionally, rural temples and Buddhist pagodas were frequented only by local people or residents of neighbouring villages; they were not designed to accommodate large crowds. The Temple of the Lady of the Treasury was no exception: until 1993, it suffered from neglect while Co Me was mired in poverty. Today, both temple and village have been almost totally transformed. Because of its perceived potency, pilgrims have contributed donations to have it rebuilt and expanded into a much larger structure. Initially a tiny shrine, it is now a spacious and solidly built place of worship.

The cult of Ba Chua Kho has had a spillover effect on other parts of Co Me and even its surroundings. Other shrines and temples, and even ordinary people's houses, have been renovated and expanded. Village dirt paths have been upgraded to concrete roads. To accommodate visitors coming from afar, the one-kilometre road from Thi Cau railroad station to the temple has been widened and smoothed over with tar. All this work of construction, renovation and expansion was made possible by the prosperity which the cult has brought to once-poor Co Me village.

The cult of the Lady of the Treasury is one of the more visible manifestations of the post-Doi Moi (Renovation) revival of religious practices after decades of discouragement or even suppression. It also illustrates some of the profound socioeconomic changes that have taken place since the advent of Doi Moi in 1986. This article attempts to explain the sudden explosion of this particular cult, its transformation from an agrarian rite into one that is largely fuelled by the market economy, and its effect on Co Me village and the local authorities.


The legend of Ba Chua Kho

Co Me village, in the commune of Vu Ninh in Bac Ninh province is situated about 30 kilometres north of Hanoi on Route lA and about 1 kilometre from Thi Cau railroad station, north of the provincial capital. (1) It consists of about 500 households, totalling roughly 3,000 people in 1999. The land belonging to the village covers an area estimated at around 200 hectares. The Temple of the Lady of the Treasury is located a little to the north, half way up the slope of Granary Mountain (Nui Lam) which overlooks the Cau (Nhu Nguyet) River. This is where the famous general Ly Thuong Kiet built a strategic-defence line against the Song (Chinese) invaders in the eleventh century. (2)

Co Me is not the only village in the Red River Delta that worships a Lady of the Treasury. Other localities in Bac Ninh also have shrines to worship a similar local deity. This is the case of Tien Lac Thuong village, Tien Son commune, Viet Yen district, Qua Cam and Thuong Dong (Lam) villages, both in Yen Phong district. Elsewhere, the most famous site is the shrine of the Lady of the Treasury at Giang Vo in Hanoi. In Thai Binh province, a story circulates that the Lady of the Treasury was originally Tran Thi Dung, who was honoured by the Tran dynasty as Spiritual National Mother of Kindness (Linh Tir Quoc Mau). (3) (The wife of the last ruler of the Ly dynasty and later of Tran Thu Do, uncle to the first emperor of the Tran dynasty, she oversaw the evacuation of the capital Thang Long [present-day Hanoi] at the rime of the first Mongol invasion in 1258.) The distinctive feature shared by all Ladies of the Treasury is that, during their lifetime, they held the keys to royal stores of military supplies and other commodities.

Except for the deity worshipped at Co Me, all of the other Ladies of the Treasury are based on figures from the Tran dynasty (1226-1400); Co Me's is the only deity who supposedly lived during the Ly, dynasty (1010-1225). …

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