The Vu Lan celebration, also known as the “Wandering Souls’ Day” or the “Hungry Ghost Festival,” is an important and culturally rich festival observed in Vietnam. It is based on a traditional Buddhist belief and takes place on the 14th to 15th day of the seventh lunar month.
Since the lunar calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar (the standard calendar used in most of the world), the exact dates of the Vu Lan festival vary each year in the Gregorian calendar. To determine the specific dates of the festival for a particular year, one would need to consult a lunar calendar or a Vietnamese festival calendar that provides the corresponding Gregorian dates for the lunar months.
The festival holds significant meaning for the Vietnamese people as it offers an opportunity to express gratitude, respect, and love towards their parents and ancestors. It is a time when families come together to honor their elders, both living and deceased, and pay tribute to their ancestors’ spirits.
One of the central aspects of the Vu Lan festival is the act of “making merit.” Buddhists believe that during this time, the spirits of deceased ancestors, especially those who might be wandering and lost, return to the human realm. To ease their suffering and help them find peace, the living make offerings to appease and guide these wandering souls. Making merit can include various practices such as releasing live animals, offering food and incense, and performing charitable acts.
In Vietnamese culture, filial piety and respect for one’s parents and elders hold great importance. During Vu Lan, children often take the opportunity to express their love and appreciation for their parents. It is common for people to visit their parents, present them with gifts, and express heartfelt gratitude for their care and sacrifices. Those whose parents have passed away also visit their gravesites or create altars at home, where they offer prayers and burn incense to honor their ancestors.
A unique and heartwarming tradition observed during Vu Lan is the “rose wearing” custom. Many Buddhists, especially in southern Vietnam, wear red or white roses on their shirts. Those who have lost their parents wear white roses to symbolize grief and remembrance, while those whose parents are still alive wear red roses as a sign of joy and appreciation.
Throughout the festival, temples and pagodas are adorned with colorful decorations, and Buddhist monks lead prayers and ceremonies to invoke blessings and peace for all beings, living and deceased. In the evenings, the atmosphere is filled with a sense of spirituality and solemnity as people light incense and candles to guide the spirits of their ancestors back to the realm of the afterlife.
In recent times, the Vu Lan festival has also become an occasion for community gatherings and cultural performances. Festivities may include traditional music, dance, and folk games, bringing people of all ages together to celebrate their shared heritage.
Overall, the Vu Lan celebration in Vietnam is a beautiful and meaningful festival that reflects the deep-rooted cultural values of filial piety, gratitude, and compassion. It provides an opportunity for individuals and families to connect with their past, express their love for their parents and ancestors, and partake in acts of kindness and generosity towards all living beings.
VU LAN AND THE BUDDHISM
The Vu Lan celebration, also known as the Ullambana Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a significant Buddhist observance with deep roots in Asian countries, including Vietnam.
In Buddhism, the Vu Lan festival is based on the story of Maudgalyayana, one of Buddha’s disciples. According to Buddhist scriptures, Maudgalyayana used his supernatural powers to see his deceased mother suffering in the afterlife due to her negative karma. He sought the Buddha’s guidance on how to help her, and the Buddha advised him to make offerings to monks and release animals as acts of merit. By doing so, Maudgalyayana could transfer the merits to his mother and alleviate her suffering.
The observance of Vu Lan is a time when Buddhists express gratitude and reverence to their parents and ancestors, particularly those who have passed away. It is believed that during this time, the spirits of deceased ancestors may return to the human realm, and Buddhists take the opportunity to make offerings and prayers to ease their suffering and guide them to a better rebirth.
Some common practices during the Vu Lan festival include:
Offering food and incense: Buddhists visit temples and pagodas to offer food, fruits, and incense to monks and the Buddha as a way to generate merit and share the merits with their deceased ancestors.
Releasing live animals: As an act of compassion, Buddhists may release birds, fish, or other animals, believing that this practice helps free the spirits of the deceased from suffering.
Paying respects at ancestors’ graves: Families visit the gravesites of their ancestors to clean and decorate them, light incense, and offer prayers as a sign of remembrance and respect.
Wearing red and white roses: In some regions, people wear red or white roses on their shirts during the festival. White roses symbolize grief and remembrance for deceased parents, while red roses represent joy and appreciation for living parents.
Attending religious ceremonies: Temples and pagodas organize special ceremonies during Vu Lan, including chanting, prayers, and Dharma talks, to invoke blessings for the living and deceased.
Vu Lan is a time of reflection, filial piety, and compassion for Buddhists. It emphasizes the importance of honoring and showing gratitude to parents and ancestors and performing acts of kindness to all living beings. The festival’s significance goes beyond religious beliefs, as it fosters family bonds and a sense of community among the people who observe it.
Is Vu Lan celebration important in Vietnam?
It is an important festival in Vietnam. It holds significant cultural and religious significance and is widely observed and cherished by the Vietnamese people.
As one of the major traditional festivals in the country, Vu Lan is considered the second most significant event of the year in Vietnam after the lunar New Year (Tet) festival. It is an occasion for families to come together, express filial piety, and show gratitude and respect to their parents and ancestors, both living and deceased.
Vu Lan also plays a role in fostering a sense of community and unity among the Vietnamese people. Temples and pagodas hold special ceremonies and events during the festival, bringing people together to participate in religious activities and share in the celebration of their shared heritage.
Moreover, the festival’s association with Buddhist beliefs adds to its importance, as Buddhism has a significant presence in Vietnam, influencing many aspects of daily life and cultural practices.
Which place is particularly representative of this tradition?
One of the most representative places of the Vu Lan tradition in Vietnam is Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. Ba Dinh Square holds historical and cultural significance as the site where President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, proclaiming the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).
During the Vu Lan festival, Ba Dinh Square becomes a central location for celebrations and religious activities. Thousands of people gather at this iconic square to participate in ceremonies, prayers, and offerings, paying tribute to their ancestors and expressing filial piety.
Ba Dinh Square’s prominence during the Vu Lan festival is also symbolic, as it represents the convergence of historical and cultural aspects of Vietnam. It serves as a reminder of the country’s past, its struggle for independence, and the importance of family and traditions in shaping Vietnamese society.
Aside from Ba Dinh Square, many other temples and pagodas across Vietnam also hold significant Vu Lan celebrations. These religious sites, steeped in history and spirituality, become focal points for observing the festival’s customs and practices, further reinforcing the importance of the tradition in the hearts of the Vietnamese people.