If you are going to drop over Vietnam in August, chances are you would be likely to witness two of the most important holidays in Vietnam occurring on the occasion of the Full-moon day in Lunar July. These two are known to be The Ghost Festival and Vu Lan Festival, which clearly bear a significant contrast against one another. However, those events are frequently misconceived as one that is known under one name, the Ghost Festival. How different are they and why do people fail to distinguish? Read further to find out!
Even many local Vietnamese tend to refer Ghost Festival and Vu Lan as one, which used as another colloquial term of “Rằm Tháng Bảy”, or the Full-moon Day of Lunar July. Yet in reality, these two significantly contrast. Ghost Festival, or “Ngày Xá Tội Vong Nhân” and “Vu Lan Festival”, or “Lễ Vu Lan” in Vietnamese are mistaken given the fact that both holidays take root in Buddhism belief and fall on the Full-moon day in Lunar July with a view to showcasing one’s honor and appreciation towards ancestors. Even though being brought to life by the same cause, the two events can be distinguished based on legends and common rituals.
Ghost Festival (Source: Internet)
Native Vietnamese believe the Ghost Festival to be the occasion when the God of Hell starts to open the gates of Hell, allowing wandering and hungry ghosts in the lower World to return to Human World. Accordingly, as a long-established belief, living mankind is expected to make a preparation which includes rice, porridge, salt, votive paper and paper clothes as an offering towards the presence of those wandering ghosts and souls in order to get rid of their annoyance. Basic rituals of the two festivals also obtain a strong contrast. During the Ghost Festival, local citizens would be making the ceremony right in front of their house or on the pavements.
Offering to the wandering souls (Source: Internet)
Vu Lan Festival
Playing its part as another important holiday in Vietnam, Vu Lan is not solely made for Buddhists but greatly supported by people of all classes as an honoring ceremony dedicated to own parents. According to Buddhism teachings, showcasing one’s appreciation towards those who have devoted own life to raising their children can be done in various ways.
A local ceremony (Source: Internet)
On the day, Buddhists frequently choose to set some animals at liberty, celebrate a requiem or carry out a charity activity with the aim of wishing good luck and health for parents. Vu Lan Festival is the day when attendants wear a rose on their chests, red roses are for those with their parents living whilst the white ones are solely used for those whose parents have passed away. Red roses remind people about respect and appreciation. Meanwhile, white roses are the witness of a harmonious life amongst children whose their parents are gone.
Red rose is put on (Source: Internet)
The origin of Vu Lan Festival goes in accordance with an old Buddhist tale. Legend has it that the devoted Buddhist Monk Mục Kiền Liên was aware of the fact that Lady Thanh Đề – his mother, was suffering from starvation and pain in the lower World after death as a consequence resulted after her living life as a cruel woman. He implored Buddha for mercy and was instructed that in order to save the Lady’s life, Mục Kiền Liên needed to pray and give alms to the poor when the Moon gets fullest in Lunar July. Accordingly, Mục Kiền Liên acted as such, rescued Lady Thanh Đề out of the Lower World. As for his mother, after all the suffering, she came to understand her wrongdoing and decided to devote her life to Buddha, living as a pious woman.
The act of putting on white and red roses on the day of Vu Lan was created by Monk Thích Nhất Hạnh during the 60s of the XX century. Vu Lan Festival witnesses a mass visit of local Vietnamese to Buddhist temples praying for family’s peace and prosperity.
Both of the events are celebrated on the Full-moon day of Lunar July, yet Ghost Festival is usually preferred by Northern Vietnamese while Vu Lan Festival is dominant in the other half of the country. Vu Lan Festival nowadays starts to be held on a large scale, which lasts from the beginning of Lunar July to the end of the month if big pagodas.
The most sought-after Buddhist temples in Vietnam
Here is a list of the most popular pagodas up and down the length of the country, which hold in themselves a great architectural as well as spiritual values during this special occasion:
- Bái Đính Pagoda – Ninh Bình
- Trấn Quốc Pagoda – Hanoi
- Hoằng Pháp Pagoda – Ho Chi Minh City
- Phổ Quang Pagoda – Ho Chi Minh City
- Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda – Ho Chi Minh City
Bái Đính Pagoda Complex (Source: Internet)
With these suggestions above, you can now have a chance to combine a religious trip alongside with a sightseeing tour in one.
A round-up of important holidays in Vietnam may go on for pages. When August comes, the Ghost Festival and Vu Lan Festival are the most iconic sections of time. Our article was just breaking down the misperception between these two as well as the stories passed down for generations regarding the birth and meaning behind all. If you are a fan of history and Worldwide cultures, visiting Vietnam definitely has you saying WOW. Planning a trip in this upcoming August? Do not forget to pass through your nearest Buddhist temple and have the truest insight for yourself.