In debt to a deity

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The Ba Chua Kho Temple in the northern province of Bac Ninh becomes busy with visitors returning to pay back their debt to Ba Chua Kho.

Truong Quoc Thang and his wife lead busy lives but they are very mindful of their need to repay debts on time, especially when the creditor happens to be a deity.

The residents of Ba Dinh District in Hanoi always make time to return to the Ba Chua Kho Temple in the northern province of Bac Ninh at the end of the year.

This year, they took advantage of the New Year Holiday to go with some of their business partners and friends who also "˜owe some money' to Ba Chua Kho and want to pay her back before the lunar year ends.

This is a popular custom that many local entrepreneurs have followed for years. The custom originates in a legend dating back long time ago.

The legend has it that Ba Chua Kho was the Queen of the Ly Dynasty. She was both beautiful and intelligent. The King asked her to look after the country's food store during a war against the Chinese Song invader. After the enemy was defeated, she helped people rebuild their lives and produce food. She founded the village of Co Me, which was then a wild land, by calling upon people to break fresh ground for cultivation. She was killed by the enemy while distributing food to people on 12th January, 1077. Villagers in Co Me built a temple to commemorate her right at the place where the store stood. They called her Ba Chua Kho, which means Lord of the Granary.

Since then, trusting in Ba Chua Kho's generosity, many people, especially entrepreneurs, often visit the temple in the beginning of the lunar New Year to "˜borrow' some money to invest in their business and pray for her support. In their prayers, they tell her about their business plans, especially the sum of money they want to borrow for their investment. And at the end of the year, they come back to thank her and pay her back the money (in votive currency) which they had borrowed earlier.

As such, the small temple, which is 20 kilometers north of Hanoi, becomes extremely crowded at these times.

Thang, who runs a hotel in Hanoi, also comes to Ba Chua Kho two times a year to "˜borrow' and "˜return' money.

"Our business has run well this year," Thang said. "I am going to return VND500 million which I borrowed from Ba Chua Kho at the beginning of this year. Thanks to her support, we have done well in this difficult year."

According to Thang, success in business is sometimes only a matter of luck. "I have a strong belief in Saints and Gods and Ba Chua Kho is the best place to pray for good luck in business," Thang said. "Thanks to her support, I have made a lot of profit this year."

 Thang's friend Pham Thanh Hoa from Dong Da District has not been very lucky this year. He lost a lot of money in real estate projects due to the stagnant market. Yet, he was returning to the temple to repay his debt and pray for a better year in 2012.

"We are not superstitious but we always feel more secure about our business after coming here to ask for Ba Chua Kho's support," Hoa said. "We had done really well over the last years but this year the situation is the same for almost everyone in our market, it is not that Ba Chua Kho has not blessed us."

Like all other visitors, Thang, Hoa and their friends each prepared a big tray with votive money and gold, fruits, cakes, boiled chicken, pork, etc. to offer to Ba Chua Kho. They brought their trays to her altar, folded their hands and reported their business results for this year. They told her they had come to repay the money and thank her for her support through out the year.

While the exact amount of transactions is only known to the devotees and the deity herself, a rough guess can be made by looking at the offerings on their trays.

After reporting at Ba Chua Kho's altar, they bring their votive offerings to her store, repaying their debt. They would also receive some votive papers as a gift from Ba Chua Kho at this time. At the beginning of the year, the gift would mean a "˜loan'.

There are also people like Thang's wife who come with simpler wishes.

"I am a nurse at a health center so I don't borrow money from Ba Chua Kho," she said. "I just come to pray for health and happiness for our family."

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