On the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, more than a hundred Chinese people gather at the only Chinese-style temple in Mumbai – the Kwan Kung shrine in the Mazgaon neighborhood – to draw divination sticks and pray with burning joss sticks. In celebration of the Spring Festival, they also perform lion dances in the narrow alley in front of the shrine, to the sound of beating gongs and drums.
The three-story shrine has survived for a century. Located in a remote area, the Kwan Kung shrine sees few visitors except on Lunar New Year’s Eve and during the Mid-autumn Festival, when local ethnic Chinese come here to worship the deities: Kwan Kung, a renowned Chinese general of the Three Kingdoms period (220-265), is enshrined on the third floor, and Sakyamuni and Avalokitesvara, two major figures in Buddhism, are on the first floor. Walking into the shrine through the red gate, you can see incense on the altars, sculptures of Chinese dragons painted in gold and embroidered curtains.
The 1950s were the good old days for the Chinese community in Mumbai, when Chinese schools, newspapers and organizations sprung up one after another. It is said that the ship factories alone employed 5,000 to 6,000 Chinese workers at that time. However, the number of ethnic Chinese in Mumbai has declined to just a few hundred nowadays. Most of them reside in the suburbs, running restaurants, barber shops or dental practices for a living. Decades have passed as the Chinese community in Mumbai has scattered, but the Kwan Kung shrine has always been a lighthouse guiding them back together.
Photographs courtesy of Bi Xiaoyang.