There are many, many Chinese temples and shrines in Thailand. Walk down some streets and you may encounter two or three within the same kilometer! The popularity of Chinese Folk deities here in Thailand most likely comes from two sources. Firstly, there are large groups of Chinese immigrants living and working here. Thailand is a very liberal country when it comes to matters of religious worship and freedom and the Chinese immigrants enjoy a freedom here that they may not have in their homeland or in other countries. Secondly, there are many, many Thais who “cheua sai jeen” or “hold the Chinese beliefs.” These may be either Thais who are the children of Chinese immigrants or Thais who simply adhere to the Chinese religious beliefs. Due to these two things, the number of Chinese spirit shrines (called a “sanchao” in Thai) and temples here in Thailand are quite abundant. They are always open and welcoming to visitors, whether you believe in the religion or not.
The deities housed in the Chinese sanchaos are many and diverse. There are many styles and types. They are both men and women, humans and demons, children and adults, all garbed in colorful robes and surrounded by offerings according to their peculiar likes. One of the more popular female deities who you are likely to encounter in the sanchaos in Thailand is Chaomae Tuptim. Her statue is that of a lovely young woman normally clothed in a bright red dress. To her right and left there are always two guardians standing watch. These figures may be humans or demons depending. If they take the form of demons, normally there is both one red-colored and one green-colored figure. Their names are Qianli Yan, which means “Thousand Miles Eyes,” who is often depicted as a red demon with two horns and Shunfeng Er, which means “With Wind in Ear,” who is often shown as a green, one-horned demon. According to legend, they are demons who often tempted Chaomae Tuptim during her lifetime on earth. One day, they offered to marry her but she instead challenged them to battle and conquered them both. After defeat, the two demons were impressed with her power and became her friends.
The legend of the life of this goddess begins with her birth on Meizhou Island, Fujian, China. She was born on March 23, 960 AD to parents Lin Heng (her father) and Lin Yui (her mother). At the moment of her birth, it is said that she didn’t cry or make a sound at all, thus, her father gave her the name Lin Moniang (also pronounced “Lim Mik” in Thai) which means “silent girl”. Some legends say that at the moment of her birth there was a heavenly light in the house.
Lin Moniang was a very clever girl and could read and write from a very young age. Even though she was a female, her father allowed her to study in school and she advanced in knowledge and skills very quickly indeed.
Since her father and brothers were fisherman, she had a special love and concern for the fisherman of the town and would often wear a red dress and stand at the edge of the shore in order to guide the ships safely to harbor. Thought she was slight of stature, she was a strong swimmer and could swim in the ocean for very long periods of time, even when the waves were harsh. It is said that many times she swam out by herself to rescue people who fell from their ship and were drowning.
Apart from these extraordinary abilities, she was also very devoted to the practice of meditation and through meditation she could predict the weather. One day, she had a dream that while her father and brothers were out fishing at sea, a great storm came and capsized their boat. In the dream she saw her father and brother drowning and dove into the waves to save them. But before she could rescue both, her mother came and roused her from slumber. Two days later, her father and brother went out fishing despite Moniang’s warning about the dream. Sure enough, her precognitive dream was true and a great storm capsized her father’s boat.
From here the legend varies by location and local belief. Some say that in the dream, before her mother woke her, she saved both her father and brothers and when it happened in reality all were spared.
Some say that in the dream Moniang was only able to save one person before her mother woke her and, in reality, there was only one survivor. And there are some who say that there were no survivors as Moniang was unable to reach the drowning men before her mother woke her.
Not long after this incident, it is said that Moniang left this earth for heaven. Again, there are many versions of this story. Some say she died of sorrow because she was unable to save her father and brothers from drowning. But the most popular belief is that she climbed a mountaintop not far from her home and flew to heaven herself. Legend says at the moment that she ascended heaven there was a rainbow colored light from the top of the mountain and heavenly music could be heard by the people of her village.
Not long after this, there were several miracles attributed to her aid. One such miracle happened between the years 1119 and 1126 AD, when the eight boats of a man named Lu Yundi were caught in a terrible storm at sea. During the storm seven ships capsized, leaving only Yundi’s ship as the lone survivor. During the turmoil, Yundi said that he saw the spirit of Lin Moniang, as a young lady dressed in red, standing at the mast. His ship was spared and he reached the harbor without further incident. There are many more miraculous events such as this attributed with Lin Moniang, most of which are related with rescues at sea or changes in the weather.
There are some who believe that Chaomae Tuptim was another reincarnation of the goddess Guan Yin and worship her as such. But the majority of worshippers do not believe this. However as a mortal, she was very devoted to Guan Yin and is said to have practiced religion with great zeal and ate a strictly vegetarian diet.
Although anyone is free to honor her, her greatest devotees are fisherman, people who work or live near the ocean, and travelers. Although now days there are few people who travel by boat, anyone who travels even by car or train can call on Chaomae Tuptim for a safe journey. Traveling by car or plane is certainly no less dangerous than travel by sea! Also people who have fevers or diseases can honor her, as it is said that she understood health and medicine very well.