Benzhu worship in Jianchuan
Benzhu are local protector deities in the Dali area, their worship is a key element of Bai identity.
In Jianchuan County, Benzhu worship is closely connected with Azhali Buddhism.
In Jianchuan county the region around the lake Jianhu 剑湖 worships a group of 18 Benzhu.
In the Dali area, almost every Bai village has a Benzhu Temple, the home of a local protector spirit. These protector spirits are mostly historic figures, such as local heros, kings, generals or others who have through good deeds won the adulation of the local population.
Each Benzhu usually has his own festival day, with activities varying greatly from place to place.
Jianchuan is much more traditionally Bai than Dali, as Jianchuan's population is even today overwhelmingly Bai. In Jianchuan, Azhali Buddhism, an ancient form of Buddhism, has survived and Benzhu rituals are usually carried out by Azhali ritualists, giving Benzhu festivals a flavour very different to those in the Erhai region.
In the 13th century, Mongol forces invaded Yunnan from the northwest. In Lijiang, the Mu family cooperated with the invaders, but the Dali Kingdom refused to yield. Legend holds it that it came to a battle in the Jianchuan basin during which the Dali army was decisively defeated and eighteen of its generals were killed. The Mongols threw their bodies into the, then much bigger, lake. Their bodies floated in the water before being dragged out by villagers of the surrounding villages who then made them their Benzhu.