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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ma Cho Temple

Constructed on September 11, 1975 through the initiative of then Tourism Minister Jose D. Aspiras and cooperation of the Chinese community, this majestic Taoist Temple is located on a hill 70 feet above sea level at Barangay II, San Fernando City, facing the China Sea. Here, people form all walks of life come and pray for change of luck from Ma Cho, a Chinese deity, whose eight inch wooden image surprisingly has a counterpart in the Roman Catholic faith known as the “Virgin of Caysasay” who is enshrined at the Basilica of Saint Martin in Taal, Batangas. 

According to Chinese history, Ma Cho was born in 960 AD during the sung Dynasty. According to legend, she did not cry at all during her first month of infancy, thus, she was first named “Mo”, meaning keeping silent. Intelligent, gifted with a photographic memory and blessed with healing powers, she became a monk at the age of 10. Growing up in the fishing village of Meizhou in the province of Fu Jian, she actively participated in rescue operations for fishermen during typhoons. It is also believed that she can accurately predict the weather in upcoming days in the sea, earning for herself the titles “Dragon Girl”, “Goddess of the Sea” and “Queen of Heaven”. Dying at the young age of 27, it is believed by Chinese sailors and fishermen that her spirit, dressed in red, continues to save the lives of those who are in distress in the high seas.

The 1 hectare temple has similar sites in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries where there are Chinese communities. Devotees believe that Ma Cho and the Virgin of Caysasay are one and the same. Every September 21-26, devotees gather for the annual celebration of the image’s enshrinement for a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Martin in Taal, Batangas. From there, the devotees, together with the image of Ma Cho, will travel back to San Fernando City, to be immediately followed by a procession around the City’s business district. Accompanied by the traditional Dragon Dance, it is then culminated by a cultural presentation.

Adorned with imported beautifully carved stone statues of the “Chinese 18 Saints” in different posses at the entrance wall, it takes pride of a courtyard made of bricks in a circular design. In the middle lies a pond adorned with water lilies and goldfish. Beside lies a small structure where one can burn offerings for the Gods. On the other side are statues of animals believed by the Chinese as good luck charms. The temple is also famous for its towering arch that gives a romantic view of the China Sea. Going inside the meditation room, one would notice its grand staircase and red kneelers. Only about 8 inch tall, it’s obviously dwarfed by its ornately carved, gold painted shrine, further made captivating by its decorative lights and encased in glass. Adorned with traditional Chinese head dress and richly colored robe, Ma Cho’s oriental eyes are closed while her hands are clasped together at her chest.

Aside from incense, devotees offer food and money at the shrine. Every other week, a “Buyong” session is held where temple elders read or interpret Ma Cho’s message to the faithful. Also housed in the sacred temple is Tho Ti Kong or God on Earth. In another garden stands the statue of yet another important Chinese diety, Kuan Yi Ma or God of Mercy. 

(by: Israel O. Rudio, PITO-LU)
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