(No.5, Vol.6,Jul-Aug 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
To beg for good fortune, one can go to Tay Ho Temple or Warehouse Lady Temple. For marital matters one can go to Ha, Ong or Duyen Ninh Pagoda. To continue one’s New Year’s fun, one can pilgrimage to Yen Tu or Perfume Pagoda.
Temple of Literature (Hanoi)
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Situated in the South of the old Thang Long capital, the Temple of Literature or Nation’s Children School is Hanoi’s richest and most diverse historical site. Today, the site has been ranked by the Prime Minister among 23 special national treasures. The architectural complex of Temple of Literature includes Literary Pond, Evaluation Garden, and the main edifice, which is both a Shrine for Confucius and the Nation’s Children School, Vietnam’s first higher education institution.
During the New Year, domestic and foreign visitors flock to the Temple of Literature in hopes of having a year of academic success. In recent years, the stone tortoises carrying steles are more strictly guarded, because all students want to touch their heads in hope of ‘passing the stormy gates’. Many scholars come here to offer calligraphy. There is a big demand for this, because it’s a souvenir, a talisman and home decoration combined. The price is normally not negotiated because this merchandise is special.
Ha Pagoda (Hanoi)
There are two legends about the pagoda’s establishment. The first goes that King Ly Thanh Tong (reigned during 1054-1072) at 42 still had no heir. He went to a pagoda to pray for a son, and later had Prince Can Duc. The pagoda was named the Pagoda of the Lord (later renamed Ha) to commemorate this event.
The second legend says Ha Pagoda was built as King Le Thanh Tong’s (reigned during 1460-1497) tribute to Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Xi and Dinh Liet, the loyal mandarins who hid and supported him during the times of turbulence and intrigues.
Ha Pagoda, located in the Dich Vong ward of Cau Giay, Hanoi, is well known and frequented by the people of Hanoi on the occasions of monthly full moon and New Year’s. The Pagoda is believed to have the power of match fixing. The lone souls, unlucky in sentiments and marital matters, come in hope of better luck. Young couples come to pray for deeper, smoother and more bonding feelings. At Ha Pagoda, visitors don’t offer as much as at the other places; just a little votive gold paper, flowers, betel and areca on a small tray. They never forget to put some small change to support the pagoda.
Stock Lady Temple (Bac Ninh Province)
Photo: Vo Van Tuong
Stock Lady Temple stands on the slope of Warehouse hill at Co Me, Vu Ninh Ward, Bac Ninh City, Bac Ninh Province. This is not only a valuable part of Co Me relic complex (which includes temples, pagodas and shrines), but also a spiritual pilgrimage destination for all Vietnamese.
Co Me Temple, dedicated to the Stock Lady, commemorates a woman who organized people to produce and accumulate provisions and to guard national stores before and after the Nhu Nguyet victory during the Ly dynasty era. She helped Ly King in matters of logistics from Warehouse Hill and gave her life in the war against Sung (Chinese) invaders on the 12th of the first lunar month of 1077. For her contributions, the King named her the Wealth Lady. Lovingly, the folks built a temple at the old warehouse place on Warehouse Hill to worship her, and respectfully named her the Stock Lady.
According to folk legend, during New Year’s people come to her temple to beg for the goods She dropped on her way. Business people come to borrow money to do business in the new year, believing that it will be smooth and profitable if they do so. All people come to her door. They do whatever it takes to place their offerings in front of Her and pray. Only then She would give them ‘scattered wealth’ or open her stock and lend them money. But borrowing money is a bit of a fussy affair with quite a bit of red tape. Most come only to ask for ‘dropped wealth’. But the vast majority comes only to pay respect to Her. For many, especially the business community, attending the Stock Lady festivities has become a habit.
Tran Temple (Nam Dinh Province)
Photo: Vo Van Tuong
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Tran Temple, located at Tran Thua Rd., Loc Vuong Ward, Nam Dinh City (near National highway no. 10), is dedicated to the Kings of Tran Dynasty and their loyal servants. The temple was built on the ground of the Tran family’s royal temple of ancestors, destroyed by Chinese Minh invaders in XV century. Tran Temple consists of three parts; Thien Truong Temple (High), Co Trach Temple (Low) and Trung Hoa Temple. On the five-door gate is a big sign with Chinese characters meaning Direct South Gate and Tran Temple. Behind the gate is a rectangular pond. Right behind the pond is the Thien Truong Temple at the centre. Trung Hoa Temple stands on the West side of Thien Truong, and Co Trach on the East.
All three temples share the same architecture and scale. Each consists of a five-room front edifice, a five-room middle edifice and a three-room main mausoleum. The front and middle edifices are connected by a roofed altar (to burn incense.)
The 14th day of the first lunar month each year, Nam Dinh organizes a New Year Sealing. The activity only begins at nightfall, but a week before that, people from everywhere to Thien Truong prefect to burn incense and take a spring meditative stroll. According to folk hearsay, the seal only has power if offered within an hour before midnight. So people elbow and scramble to get it within the sacred hour. The organizers distribute queue tickets in the morning, for which people also have to stand in queues. But when time comes, no queue can be sustained. If you and your family plan to visit Tran Temple for a seal, you may be quite fussy, because on this day the air is only human breath and incense smoke.
King Quan Shrine or Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda (Ho Chi Minh City)
The pagoda is situated at 676 Nguyen Trai St, Ward 11, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, amidst a vibrant urban commercial area. This is a spiritual center of Chinese and some Vietnamese communities. Crowds of worshipers are seen here every day.
The temple is dedicated to Guan Gong, aka Quan Yunchang, a hero of the Three Kingdom era. To the Chinese, he was an ideally well-rounded man of virtues. That’s why the temple is called the King Quan Shrine.
The place is the meeting place of Chinese migrants from Chaozhou, and they call it Nghia An guildhall. It’s not grand in scale, but the word about its love blessing power has spread very far. Many young people come here to pray for the Lord’s blessing in matters of love and marriage.
Tay Ho Temple (Hanoi)
Magnificent Hanoi has no lack of age old-temples and pagodas. Among them, Tay Ho Temple is perhaps the holiest. For that reason, during New Year celebrations, not only people from Hanoi, but tourists and guests from near and far come here to burn incense and ask for a lucky and peaceful year. The temple resides on a small peninsula jutting into the West Lake from the East side, which used to be an ancient village of the old Thang Long capital.
At the village gate, there is a temple for Lady Lieu Hanh, a virtuous talented woman, musician, and poetess, deified by the folk as the Sacred Mother. Every New Year’s Eve at midnight, a multitude of pilgrims come here to pay tribute to the Sacred Mother, to ask her for luck and good fortune, and to contemplate the beautiful scenic West Lake. If your family is considering combining a sight-seeing tour with spiritual activities in order to ask for godsend, keep this holiest destination in mind.
Perfume Pagoda (Ha Tay)
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Every year, when apricot blossom cover Huong Son Mountains in white, millions of Buddhists and elegantly dressed people from all directions come here to attend this festival, which takes place from the 6th of the first lunar month until late of third month. The high season is between the first full moon and the 18th of second lunar month. A day before it starts, smoke of incense cover all pagodas and temples and shrines. Called a festival, it actually has no festivities, rituals, shows or games as usually seen elsewhere. People simply sit in boats to enjoy the scene and feel of heaven and earth, trying to absorb the meditative air of natural spirituality.
During the festive time, the young ones spend their energy, elder people refill their energy from the air of spiritual fulfillment, and everybody has their share of happiness. Lines of people gleam on mountain slopes. Whoever is coming in or is on the way out, all seem to float on bobbing clouds. They meet and greet each other, acquainted not, with a prayer ‘Glory to Buddha Amitabha’, respectfully and warmheartedly.
Yen Tu Monastery
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Yen Tu has been considered the country’s Buddhist capital since the XIII century. That’s why every New Year, tens of thousands from all over the country pilgrimage to this sacred mountain. After Perfume Pagoda festival, this is pilgrims’ second biggest event. Yen Tu festival begins on the 10th day of the new year and also lasts until the end of spring. The grandeur of the mountains, the solemnity of temples, pagodas and towers amidst pine, juniper, golden bamboo, apricot and frangipani trees that line the paths to those edifices give people the feeling of relaxation and tranquility despite the steepness of the stairs.
Today, the telpher system is operating, bringing visitors to Hoa Yen Pagoda at 534m above sea level, where two 700-year-old frangipani trees are blossoming. From there, visitors and pilgrims can climb the path to Dong Pagoda, stopping by other temples on the way. The path to Dong Pagoda is often immersed in clouds.
Bac Le Temple (Lang Son Province)
If you are single and want the warmth of a family, you should visit this place. Folks in the region believe that this is the most wonder-working temple in the area and maybe in the whole country.
Bac Le Temple is situated in Tan Thanh Commune, Huu Lung District, Lang Son Province. It stands on a high hill, surrounded by century-old trees. This is a typical temple of the Lady Mother of our country. The biggest festival in the year takes place from the 18th to the 20th of the 9th lunar month.
The temple is dedicated to the Lady of the Mountains. She preserves and distributes the resources of the mountains and forests to mankind. Another deity worshiped in the temple is the Little Songstress, a real historical figure from Bac Le era. This is the Mother’s child in the Vietnamese Lady-Mother faith. The festival includes throne wash ritual, grand feast ritual, and a procession. The air is filled with drum and gong beats, music and colorful dresses of the wealth-bearing dance. The locals believe that this dance brings luck and peace to the attendees.
Duyen Ninh Pagoda (Ninh Binh Province)
Duyen Ninh Pagoda is located in ancient Chi Phong Village, Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Bình Province, 10 km from Ninh Binh City by Trang An Road. Duyen Ninh, Am Tien, Kim Ngan, Co Am and Nhat Tru are millennium-old pagodas in the ancient capital Hoa Lu of the Dinh-Le era that remain active today. Duyen Ninh and Kim Ngan pagodas stand on the West side of the old capital. Like Nhat Tru (Single Pillar), Duyen Ninh Pagoda is dedicated to Buddha and the X century high monks Phap Thuan, Khuong Viet and Van Hanh.
It’s a legend that Dinh-Le princesses used to frequent Duyen Ninh Pagoda. This was where Princess Le Thi Phat Ngan and Lord Ly Cong Uan made vows to each other and gave birth to Ly Phat Ma (King Ly Thanh Tong) in the year 1000. Later, having suppressed the Nation Founder rebellion, King Ly Thai Tong renamed the Pagoda to Duyen Ninh. At an old age, Queen Phat Ngan became a nun here to take care of the grave of her father, Emperor Le Dai Hanh. Here, the Queen blessed many wedding couples. Since then, Duyen Ninh became the place to be blessed for marriage. Childless people also come here to beg for a child.
Chu Dong Tu Temple (Hung Yen Province)
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
Chu Dong Tu Temple (Khoai Chau District, Hung Yen Province) is attached to the love story of Princess Tien Dung and Chu Dong Tu, a poor young man but an extremely loving son. It’s a beautiful story that will live eternally. That’s why people come here to burn incense not only to commemorate one of the ‘immortal four of Vietnam’ together with two beautiful ladies, Princess Tien Dung and Princess Tay Sa, but also to pray to find a true love and a harmonic family.
My Nuong Shrine (Hanoi)
Photos: Nguyen Ba Ngoc
My Nuong Shrine is a part of Co Loa Pagoda (Hanoi). In the pagoda, there is a shrine that has a headless statue, beautifully dressed and adorned. Local people say it’s a statue of Princess My Chau, decapitated by her King-father for treason. The deeply moving story of emotions, love and devotion between My Chau and Trong Thuy made people believe that this is the place where love will always be blessed and prayer for love will always be granted. So every New Year, crowds pour in to seek assurance in emotional fulfillment and family happiness.