Tamil traders are believed to have lived in Quanzhou in
China in the
13th century. They are believed to have built several Hindu temples here.
Chedian shrine is one among the surviving temples but the main murti worshipped
here is considered by the villagers as another form of Guanyin, the female
Bodhisattva who is venerated in many parts of China.
Local scholars are still unsure about her identity, but what they do know is that this shrine’s unique roots lie not in
China, but in far away south India. The deity, they say, was either brought to Quanzhou — a thriving port city that was at the centre of the region’s maritime commerce a few centuries ago — by Tamil traders who worked here some 800 years ago, or perhaps more likely, crafted by local sculptors at their behest.
The Chedian shrine is just one of what historians believe may have been a network of more than a dozen Hindu temples or shrines, including two grand big temples, built in Quanzhou and surrounding villages by a community of Tamil traders who lived here during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties.
The history of Quanzhou’s temples and Tamil links was largely forgotten until the 1930s, when dozens of stones showing perfectly rendered images of the god Narasimha — the man-lion avatar of Vishnu — were unearthed by a Quanzhou archaeologist called Wu Wenliang. Elephant statues and images narrating mythological stories related to Vishnu and Shiva were also found, bearing a style and pattern that was almost identical to what was evident in the temples of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh from a similar period.