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Mazu--The Legend of the Goddess of the Sea

Updated: 09 Mar 2007
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In Meizhou Bay near the city of Putian in eastern Fujian there is a beautiful little island shaped like a long, narrow eyebrow. Although the island is only 16 square kilometres in area, thousands of people come here every year to pay homage to Mazu, a woman who lived long ago and became deified as a goddess. Now she is called either Mazu or Tianhou (the Holy Mother in Heaven), but no matter what name is used, she is known to all as the Goddess of the Sea. Protector of all seafaring people, it is only fitting that her major place of worship is on an island.

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Viewed from the sea, palatial temples stand in great numbers on the island, their glazed gold-tiled roofs shining brightly against the blue sky. Towering above the cluster of temples is a statue of the goddess, whose graceful and poised figure blends in naturally with the scenery. She stands in the posture of one who is piloting a ship amidst raging wind and waves. Throughout the world there are more than 100 million devotees of the goddess and some 1,500 temples, the first of which was built here on Meizhou.

 

It has been over 1,000 years since Chinese people first started worshipping Mazu as the Goddess of the Sea. Mazu's original name was Lin Mo, and she was a descendant of the prominent Lin family of Fujian. According to historical records, one of Mazu's remote ancestors, Lin Lu, was sent at imperial behest to Fujian to work as prefect in what is now the city of Fuzhou in 325, during the Jin Dynasty. Lin Mo was born on the 23rd day of the third lunar month in the year 960 during the Song Dynasty in Xianliang Port (present-day Zhongmen Town) in Meizhou Bay.

 
She was born a strange child who did not cry once from the day she was born to the time she was one month old. For this reason she was given the name Mo (silence). From earliest childhood it was clear that Lin Mo was superbly intelligent. It is said that when she was 13, an old Taoist priest found that she was a girl with a deeply spiritual disposition, and he therefore passed on to her the secret teachings of Taoism. From then on, she led a religious life and studied diligently according to the priest's teachings.

Another version says that when Lin Mo was 16 she went together with some other girls to a well to look into the water and admire their dresses. Suddenly a celestial being emerged from the well and offered them a magic bronze tally. The other girls ran away in panic, but Lin Mo remained calm and took the tally completely unperturbed. From that moment on she was an enlightened being, and her magic powers increased daily.


Being a kind-hearted girl, Lin Mo was always lending a helping hand to villagers who were in difficulties, and became well known for her many good deeds. She was also proficient in medicine and cured the sick with medicinal herbs, at the same time teaching people how to prevent disease and ward off calamities. As she was familiar with the sea and was good at making astronomical observations and calculating weather changes, Lin Mo could tell when it was the right time for sailors and fishermen to put out to sea. It is said that she could ride the clouds across the ocean, and many times used her powers to turn the tide and save merchant ships and fishing boats from the perils of the sea. Due to her extraordinary kindness and miraculous powers, people began calling her "The Goddess" or "The Daughter of the Dragon".

 

Folk Customs

 

 

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