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Bach Ma temple - A striking legend & art in Hanoi

Bach Ma Temple or the temple of the White Horse on Hang Buom street, Hanoi is the oldest religious building in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Since September 1986, the government has recognized Bach Ma Temple as an historical site of national importance. It is still used as a place of worship today.


It is believed that the white horse symbolizes the sun and because the sun rises in the east, the white horse was deemed to be guardian of the eastern borders of the city. Bach Ma became the temple of the Protector of the East. Temples were built at three other points where the white horse had paused – south, west, and north to protect the other borders of the city. The temple of the south is Kim Lien, west is Voi Phuc temple and north is Quan Thanh temple which is near West Lake now.

When King Ly Thai To gave the genie this name “Bach Ma” in the 11th century after it appeared to the king in a dream as a snow-white steed galloping around the boundaries of the citadel.

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The Bach Ma temple was a very important place of worship, especially for the ruling family. It was an impressive building among the small wooden houses of the neighbourhood, surrounded by bustling local markets. Here in Bach Ma Temple, many heroes were incorporated into the pantheon.

Bach Ma Temple was repaired many times over the centuries and the architecture was greatly influenced by Chinese styles drawn from the large Chinese community living in the vicinity. It miraculously survived natural disasters several times.  

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 Dragon. In the Vietnam language “long” means dragon. As a symbol of power and nobility, the dragon was chosen to be the emblem of emperors. Its carved head is a sign of great intelligence.

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Unicorn. This animal is a symbol of intelligence and goodness and saves itself for appearances only on auspicious occasions – a unicorn is said to have been presented in 481 B.C, at the birth of Confucius. The unicorn has the body of an antelope, the feet of a horse, and the tail of a buffalo. On its head, the male unicorn has a horn.

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 Phoenix. Symbolising the utmost in all things virtuous and graceful, the phoenix – “Phuong” in Vietnamese - became the emblem of queens. It is also a sign of peace, having an aversion to conflict and is presented only during times of harmony and prosperity. The phoenix is generally depicted in a graceful moment of flight with outstretched wings and flaming tail feathers.

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Lotus. This flower is important in both Buddhism and Taoism. It is used to symbolize purity and perfection because it grows in mud but looks so pure. It also represents for the fertility and reproduction because it has numerous seeds.

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