Mazu's Consorts

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on June 29, 2015.)

Mazu's consorts at the Tianhou Temple in Chiwan, Shenzhen

One of the most popular folk figures in South China and its environs is Mazu, goddess of the sea. She is also popularly called "Tianhou" or "Empress of Heaven," a title given by the "Central Board of Rites" in 1720.

In her several temples around Shenzhen--including the one at Chiwan, the largest Tianhou "palace" in south China--one seldom sees her without her two consorts or guardians, a couple of fierce-looking warrior gods. These are Qianli Yan ("Thousand League Eyes") and Shenfeng Er ("Favorable Wind Ears").

The former, whose hand is raised to shade his eyes, can see far, and discern obstructions at night, or in foggy or rainy conditions. His partner is able to distinguish between coming storms and winds suitable for sailing; he holds a hand to his ear to improve his hearing.

Together, they help Tianhou protect sailors and fishermen. But how did they come to be associated with her?

As the story goes, they were once two brothers named Gao, treacherous warriors in the Shang Dynasty. They had died in a battle on Peach Blossom Mountain, and their spirits haunted the place. One day as the beautiful Mazu passed by, they fell in love with her.

She was pledged to remain a virgin, so to calm their yearning she challenged them to combat! These were the terms: if either of them won, she would marry the winner; but if she beat them both, they would serve her forever.

You can guess how the battle ended, as they serve her still, looking and listening for those who need her help. A powerful goddess indeed!

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