Across the country, the first month of the lunar year is considered the month of festivals. This is the time for the most unique festivals of Vietnam such as Huong (Perfume) Pagoda, Yen Tu…
Huong Pagoda Festival in Hanoi
Together with Bai Dinh and Yen Tu Pagoda Festival, Huong Pagoda Festival is among the greatest Buddhist festivals in northern Vietnam. Huong Pagoda Festival plays an important role in the spiritual life of Vietnamese people in general and Vietnamese Buddhists in particular.
Huong Pagoda is located in My Duc District, 70 kilometers away from Hanoi to the south. This festival lasts for three months from the first to the third month in Lunar Calendar. In fact, the official opening day for the festival is on the 6th day of the first Lunar month.
According to folklore, once upon a time, there was a beautiful and kind-hearted princess named Dieu Thien—the third daughter of King Dieu Trang, Huong Lam Kingdom. However, at the age of marriage, the prince rejected all proposals from other countries and insisted on leading a religious life. The King got very angry and locked her into the backyard of his palace. As the princess’s decision was unchanged, King Dieu Trang sent her to Bach Tuoc pagoda where she went through a wide range of arduous works; still, she completed them all.
Becoming more and more displeased, the King set Bach Tuoc Pagoda on fire and jailed the princess into the forbidden palace. However, Princess Dieu Thien was so determined that she overcame all of the challenges and difficulties. At the end, the King decided to execute his stubborn daughter. Right when Dieu Thien was escorted to the scaffold, Huong Tich Mountain God came in the form of a tiger and saved her.
The princess woke up in the forest and saw a handsome young man approaching her. The man eagerly sent Dieu Thien chatty pick up lines; however, she kept on turning him down. Surprisingly, the guy turned out to be Buddha. He told the princess to practice Buddhism in Huong Tich Cave.
After nine years of ascetic Buddhist practice, the princess became enlightened. She saved the country from the war, protected her parents and sisters from devils. From then on, she was canonized as Goddess of Mercy (Quan Am) and was widely worshipped throughout the country.
As other festivals in Vietnam, Huong Pagoda Festival is divided into two parts: The ceremonies and the entertaining activities. Ceremonial rituals consist of incense offering procession and Zen ceremony in which Monks and Buddhists offer incense, flowers, candles and fruits. During the ceremony, two monks perform beautiful and flexible dances.
There are also entertaining activities include enjoying boat cruise along Yen Stream for watching picturesque scenery, climbing mountain and exploring holy caves. It is believed that climbing up the top of Huong Tich Mountain will bring you fulfillment and great success in life.
Coming to Huong Pagoda Festival, tourists have chance to taste three famous delicacies which are bamboo shoot, Sang vegetables and grinding roots. Coming at the beginning of Huong Pagoda Festival, tourists will be overwhelmed by the white color of apricot flowers covering the entire area of Huong Son mountain; and at the end of festival, you will have chance to taste the fresh flavor of apricot juice.
The Huong pagoda festival is imbued with national identity in which people are oriented towards Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.
Time: 1st to 3rd month
Purpose: worship Buddhism, pilgrimage, spirituality
Ceremonies: incense offering procession, Zen ceremony
Entertaining activities: boat cruising, mountain climbing, sightseeing
Lim Festival in Bac Ninh
Lim Festival opens annually on around 12th – 13th day of the first lunar month in the year. The festival takes place in Noi Due Commune, Lien Bao Commune and Lim Town in Tien Du District, Bac Ninh Province. It’s the festival of “Quan Ho” folk singing, which was named UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.
The main day of the festival is 13th day of Lunar New Year. At the beginning of the festival, the locals gather very early in a procession up to Lim Hill – the center of Lim Festival.
On Lim Hill, representatives of villages take part in a traditional liturgy of incense-offering at Lim Pagoda, which is a place to worship Mr. Nguyen Dinh Dien.
According to the story told by a local resident, Nguyen Dinh Dien, who lived in the 18th century, was born in Noi Due Village and made many great merits for his hometown.
He was also the person who founded Lim Festival, which was originally Commune Festival held yearly in the eighth lunar month. Therefore, the incense-offering liturgy expresses gratitude and respect of the locals for him, and is also an occasion to remember the origin of Lim Festival as well.
Recreational activities of Lim Festival begin earlier, usually from 12th day of Lunar New Year. Of course, the most attractive activity is “quan ho” singing performance.
Each year, thousands of tourists come to visit Lim Festival and enjoy the Intangible Cultural Heritage. On Lim Hill, several stages of villages in Bac Ninh Province are built. Visitors can enjoy “quan ho” singing at different stages and interact with singers in traditional costumes.
Female singers (called “lien chi” in Vietnamese) are beautiful in “ao tu than” (four-panel traditional dress) and “non quai thao” (“quai thao” hat, so-called “non ba tam”). Male singers (called “lien anh” in Vietnamese) are elegant in “ao the” and “khan xep”. They sing love duets together in pairs of one male and one female. Don’t miss the taste of betel chewing while enjoying the lovely melody of “quan ho” folk songs.
Moreover, on the lake in front of Lim Communal House, visitors can catch the scenery of “quan ho” singing performance on a dragon boat. Visitors will experience a unique specialty of legend land of Kinh Bac as well as of Vietnam in general.
Lim Festival is also a space for various folk games such as “danh du” (bamboo swings), wrestling, cocks fighting, tugging war, blindman’s bluff, human chess, pot beating, etc. Visitors can learn more about the culture of Vietnamese people in the Red River Delta region with a weaving competition.
Over 300 years in existence, Lim Festival has become an indispensable part of Vietnamese culture and the pride of Vietnamese people.
Yen Tu Festival in Quang Ninh
Yen Tu Festival opens from 10th January to the end of March in Lunar calendar at the Yen Tu mountain area of Thuong Yen Cong commune, Uong Bi Town, Quang Ninh province.
There are 11 Buddhist temples and several pagodas in Yen Tu relic complex. Dong Pagoda (means Bronze Pagoda) was built on the top of mountain at nearly 1.100 meters above sea level. If visitors reach there, they will have an opportunity to see the sea of clouds around or a panorama of the Northeast (if it’s clear sky).
Yen Tu was the centre of Buddhism many years before, where the Buddhist sect of Truc Lam originated. Most people come here escaping the busy daily life, taking fresh air among glorious scenery of nature and pray for luck and health for themselves and their family in the New Year. Yen Tu is famous for the legend about Tran King and Truc Lam Zen, which attracts many Vietnamese here every year.
Dong Da Hill Festival, Hanoi
Two centuries ago (around 1789), Dong Da was a battlefield where more than 200,000 soldiers were killed. Dong Da Hill became a glorious historical site of the Vietnamese nation.
In the early morning of the 5th day of the Tet Holiday, a procession for the deity of celebration commences at Khuong Thuong and ends at Dong Da Hill. The procession includes flags, a processional parasol, palanquins with a variety of colors, and the sounds of gongs and drums.
The procession moves slowly with the characteristic of a triumphant victory. The most special part of the procession is the fire dragon which is decorated with straw, cataphyll, and coarse paper.
A group of youth, dressed in martial suits, then goes around and performs a piece that recounts the whole period of the war. The”Thang Long Fire Dragon” has become a symbol of victory for the Vietnamese nation.
When the procession comes to Dong Da Hill, there is a ceremony after which someone reads the story of the victory of Ky Dau that praises the military genius of the national hero, Quang Trung.
There are also various games and competitions that challenge the skill and intelligence of the participants on the wide field in front of the hill.
Giong Temple Festival, Hanoi
The Giong Festival is held annually in Phu Dong Village, Gia Lam District, Hanoi.
This large festival is held on the 9th day of the 4th month of the lunar calendar. The date commemorates Saint Giong who defeated the An invaders. In order to show their gratitude to the hero of Giong Village who sacrificed his life to fight invaders, the people proclaimed him Saint Giong.
Preparation for the festival occurs from the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month to the 5th day of the 4th lunar month. The procession starts from the Mother Temple to Thuong Temple with the performance of a religious service. After reaching the temple, a feast for the troops occurs. When night falls, a Cheo play is performed (a classical Vietnamese opera). The festivities end on the 10th day of the 4th month, as the troops withdraw and a thanksgiving procession takes place.
At the Giong Festival, people can make connections with their the neighbors, with relatives, between the individuals within a community, and with the past and present. This festival blends together the traditions of love for the motherland and the preservation of the cultural heritage.
Co Loa Festival, Hanoi
The Co Loa Festival is held annually from the 6th to the 16th of the 1st lunar month. It takes place in the pagoda that honors An Duong Vuong in Co Loa Commune, Dong Anh District, Hanoi. On the 6th day of Tet, the literature procession is preceded by a flag that symbolizes the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), a musical company, and a sacrifice.
The Literature Stand set at the Imperial Court’s Sedan Chair is shaded by a parasol. In the courtyard, one can see many colorful festival flags and Dai Flags (great ones) fluttering in the wind. On either side of the temple gates are a couple of red horses and white horses with colorful saddles.
Preceded by the literature procession is a sacrificial ceremony that lasts until 12 pm. After this ceremony, there is the god procession of 12 villages. Besides these processions, there are many activities such as swinging, rice cooking, singing Vietnamese popular opera and other events.
On the 16th day of the first lunar month, the festival is closed with a thanksgiving ceremony.
Xoan Festival in Phu Tho
Xoan Festival is organized in Huong Nha village, Tam Thanh District, Phu Tho province from the 7th to the 10th of the first lunar month. The festival aims to celebrate Xuan Nuong – a talented woman general of Hai Ba Trung (sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi) and praise the work of Hung Kings.
During the festival days, many performances will be held to serve travelers. The Festival also holds the Xoan singing contest – a cultural and artistic character of the land group.
The start of the festival is the traditional vegetarian party respectfully offering yams and honey to Hung Kings. The 10th January (lunar calendar) conjurer the village crafts at the alluvial ground in front of the village temple. The role of plowing, harrowing, sowing, bailing water, selling silkworm and cotton is very attractive.
Tran Temple Festival in Nam Dinh
The festival, one of the largest annual spring festivals in Vietnam, is held from the 14th day of the first lunar month every year at the national historical complex of the Tran Kings’ shrines and tombs in Tien Duc Commune, Hung Ha District.
It usually begins with an incense-offering rite at the kings’ tombs and a ritual for the opening of the gates of Den Thanh (Thanh Temple), Den Mau (Mother Temple) and the Tran Kings’ shrines.
They are followed by a ‘water procession’, in which people will carry nine ornate palanquins with memorial plaques of the Kings of the Tran Dynasty and members of their royal families.
A series of folk games are also organized during the festival, such as a rice-cooking challenge, clay firecrackers, chung (sticky rice) cake wrapping and tug of war, alongside traditional performances and sport games.
The Tran Temple Festival was recognized as a national intangible heritage in 2014. The historical complex of the Tran Kings’ shrines and tombs received special national relic status last year.
The Tran Dynasty repelled the Yuan-Mongols on three occasions, making it the most brilliant reign in Vietnamese history.
Ba Chua Kho Temple Festival in Bac Ninh
Ba Chua Kho Temple Festival is held on 14th day of the first lunar monthin Co Me Village, Vu Ninh Commune, Bac Ninh City, Bac Ninh Province, is delicated to Ba Chua Kho (The Queen of Stock), four gods: Thien phu, Dia phu, Thuy phu, and Nhac phu.
It is said that Lady Chua Kho was a hard working woman. After marrying the king of Ly Dynasty, she asked to go to Vu Ninh area, recruited villagers for establishing village, expanded the wasteland, and organized production in 72 small villages. She also kept an eye on the food stock, maintained military provisions well during and after the victory of Song invaders in Nhu Nguyet Rive (CauRiver) in 1076. When she died, people built a temple to dedicate to her.
Annually, the temple attracts a great number of people from the whole country to worship and pray for good fortune and borrow money from her for work in the year.
Cau Ngu Festival in Hue
The traditional festival Cau Ngu is unique and imbrued with the cultural identity of a coastal community. The fishermen here consider whales, a giant yet nice creature, as the companion of seafarers in their voyages, on the vast ocean full of danger. To these people’s mind, whales are not just a normal kind of mammal. They are sanctified and named Sir Nam Hai.
The villages where whales’ bodies drifted toafter they died would build a temple to properly venerate them, called Nam Hai Whale Temple (Lang Ong Nam Hai). That was the origin of Cau Ngu, a festival that has gone through a long history and become an important spiritual activity.
The festival starts with solemn ritual ceremonies, in which elders hold a palanquin procession from village to village, displaying fishermen’s union and expressing gratitude towards their ancestors and guardians. According to fishermen’s belief, if they put much thought into the rituals and celebrate them with huge reverence, they will be guaranteed a life with safe and sound sea journeys, great fishing results, and full of wealth and comfort.
Apart from the worshipping ceremony, Cau Ngu is about vibrant traditional games which presents culture in the central coast of Vietnam, including fish-catching, net-casting, and raw fish games. Music is also an indispensable part of the festival, with “Boi” singing is performed. The festival takes place on the 12th day of the first lunar month in Thai Duong Ha village, Thuan An, Hue city.
If you would like to combine your trip to Vietnam taking in one of the most colorful festivals, just let us know.