Van Thuy Tu Temple
to Whale Worship
The Van Thuy Tu Temple on Ngu Ong Street (Fisherman Street, Duc Thang ward) is the oldest temple dedicated to whale worship. Built in 1762, the temple now contains over 100 whale skeletons and other strange species of fish, most of which are 100-150 years old. Most noteworthy is a 22 meter whale skeleton, which is estimated to have weighed 65 tons when alive. The temple was recognised as a national relic site in 1996.
Its architecture is in the shape of the letter "Tam", with its front side facing East. It was originally was built near Van estuary on the coast. In the temple is a large burial ground for dead whales, once stranded on the shore.
The whale-worship cult is thought to originate in early Kh’mer and Cham cultures, and thus predates every established religion in Vietnam. Little is officially known or documented by the outside world regarding the whale cult. The Whale god is believed to be a powerful spirit that can calm the waves and lead seafarers to shelter. He is known as ‘ngu ong’, which means ‘Mr. Whale’.
Living whales are revered as well. Local fishermen never hunt the large marine animals, which they regard as giant fish. The carcasses of whales that have died natural deaths are buried with great respect and complex ritualistic ceremonies. After three to five years, the bones are exhumed, shrouded and carried to the temple to be worshipped. Whale funerals always attract large crowds. The rituals are still practiced today. The last whale burial was in 2002.
Up to a century ago, whales were frequently spotted in the surrounding coast of Phan Thiet and fishermen believed they were gods of the sea who guided and protected them. They are only seen infrequently now.
The Dua Linh, Ba Trao and Nghing Ong Festivals in Phan Thiet is closely tied to this temple.