Deities on the doorstep

(No.5, Vol.4,Jun-Jul 2014 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Door deities at Bac De Pagoda, Rach Gia, Kien Giang Province, Mekong Delta

Door deities at Nghia An clan House, Dist.5, Ho Chi Minh City
Photos: Nguyen Thai Hoa

Door deities, or Mon Than, in Vietnamese, are conceived of in the Chinese belief system as guardian spirits and pervaders of peace and good fortune for the household. The door is an indespensible part of a home, with an intimate relationship with household life. Since times long ago, the door was esteemed for its importance and this gradually evolved into worshipping door spirits or door deities.
In China, during the early Zhou Dynasty (c.1046-256 B.C.E.), already the custom of making offerings to the door had appeared. Later, sacrifices to the door deities were organized in the ninth lunar month. At that time, the people had already finished the grain harvest and so proceeded with the sacrifice ritual to ask door deities to come protect them.
When the Chinese emigrated to Vietnam, they brought their traditions along, among them the worshipping these threshold guardians. The two door deities that are most prevalently worshipped are Qin Qiong (a.k.a. Qin Shubao, d.638), and Yuchi Jingde (a.k.a Yuchi Gong, 585-658).
Legend has it that the health of Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649) of the Tang Dynasty was not good. The emperor often heard wailing ghosts at the door of the imperial bed chamber. Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong, both generals, thus came to keep vigil at the sides of the chamber door and the whole night passed peacefully without incident. Taizong felt that for the two generals to keep vigil at the chamber door was too burdensome, so he ordered that images of the two generals be painted with menacing figures — in which their hands clenched axes and they bore whips and bows and arrows on their backs — and that they be attached to the sides of the chamber door. The two of them were thereafter granted imperial investiture as deities. By the time of the Nguyen Dynasty (beginning in the early ninteenth-century) this custom began to become prevalent among the common masses.

By Nguyen Thai Hoa
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