Lady of the Realm is a prosperity goddess from southern Vietnam, a supporter of business, health, and a protector of the Vietnamese border. She is housed in Vĩnh Tế village at the foot of Sam Mountain, near Cambodia. A three-day festival is held in the village at the beginning of the rainy season, beginning on the twenty-third day of the fourth lunar month, in her honour. Bà Chúa Xứ reached her peak of popularity in the 1990s and still entertains pilgrims every year with her responsiveness to loyal followers.
According to French archaeologist Louis Malleret, the statue of the Lady of the Realm which is worshipped in Vĩnh Tế village is, in fact, an appropriated and feminized statue of the Indian god Shiva. The stone statue was created by the pre-Angkorean Khmer people of Cambodia.] However, many of her worshippers may disagree with this theory. Stories of her heritage recount her growing naturally from stone before being discovered by the Vietnamese of Sam Mountain.
The Lady of the Realm is known as a protector deity. She is one of many goddesses who have grown popular in southern Vietnam since Doi Moi She can provide assistance for business success, health, fertility, domestic harmony, scholastic success, and divination of the future. She engages in credit activities, and pilgrims will exchange money for her spirit money, which is said to accumulate wealth. One is then required to repay the goddess for years to come, and keep to the promises he/she has made to her. She is known to be effective against those who do not return what they owe. The Lady of the Realm and other Vietnamese goddesses act to psychologically assist the people in need, and to support community.
A large portion of pilgrims who come to the shrine in Vinh Te are female entrepreneurs. The act of making a pilgrimage to the goddess is seen as an act of proper morality toward their benefactress. Once seeking the assistance of the Lady of the Realm, one is required to return to her to keep promises and give thanks for her assistance. It is said among pilgrims that a man who asks her Ladyship for help will have to return to her annually for nine years, and a woman for seven. Pilgrimage is a necessary part of returning these promises for many rural as well as Ho Chi Minh City inhabitants who worship her.
The Lady of the Realm is a statue made of stone and cement housed in a great shrine decorated with offerings that were given to her. During the festival at the beginning of the rainy season, she is bathed and her robe is changed by elderly women of the village. Thoai Ngoc Hau, who also has a mausoleum in the village, has a statue paraded into the goddess’ room to stay as a guest during the festival. It is accompanied by a series of sacrifices (including a big pig for roasting) performed by the village’s cult committee. An invocation is performed to receive peace and prosperity from the goddess, and series of opera performances take place.
The area around the shrine comes alive with markets and entertainment, including beauty queen contests, slideshows, magic acts, a house of horrors, karate, gambling, restaurants, cafes, bars, and a popular sideshow of dancing cross dressers which was banned in the late 1990s. Her shrine is the most popularly visited religious site in southern Vietnam.
Source and photo: Wikipedia