by Ha Nguyen
Traditional festival in Viet Nam is a great cultural activity and is available in all of the country's localities. The festival often attracts mass population of different walks including ordinary people and Government employees.
When she heard that Tran Temple was holding a festival where you could buy a sheet of paper with a presumely "royal" seal on it for VND20,000 that would help you get promoted quickly, Nong Thi Yen went to purchase one for her son.
But before the festival even started, people rushed into the temple, damaging the doors and robbing offerings, said the woman from the northern province of Cao Bang.
"All of my offerings disappeared due to jostling," Yen said. "I will never dare to go to such a festival again. I saw many people faint while trying to steal branches!"
In the past, people went to traditional festivals to pray for a year of health and enjoy singing, dancing and games. Today, Vietnamese are just as eager to go to festivals - but mainly to pray for prestige and profits.
Festivals are multiplying to meet the increasing demand, causing headaches for both festival attendees and Government officials in charge of planning cultural activities.
Kieu Thanh Thu from HCM City said she was very excited to go to Huong Pagoda for the first time.
"But the environment around the site was very dirty and we were far overcharged for services. The price for a boat on Yen Stream was about VND700,000, even though the set price was VND50,000," said Thu.
Even more worrisome, she reported seeing dozens of wild animal carcasses hanging up for sale. These commanded up to VND300,000 per small plate.
"I don't understand why there were so many wild animals killed and why authorities did not address the problem," she said.
Pham Van Thuy, head of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Grassroots Culture Department, said Viet Nam has nearly 8,000 traditional festivals each year. Almost all of them occur in the first quarter of the lunar year, causing frequent traffic jams and pollution.
Despite the local management board's attempts to stop people from burning votive papers, they continue to do so, causing serious pollution, Thuy said.
"We now only limit the burning of votive papers at public places, but we will propose banning production and circulation of votive objects to the Government," said Thuy.
He said the culture ministry is compiling a draft on festivals planning.
Under the draft plan, provinces, districts and communes will have clearly defined responsibilities and festivals like the Tran seal festivals in Nam Dinh and Thai Binh will be reduced.
Meanwhile, he said, localities should work on making people aware of the importance of protecting cultural and historical heritage and the environment during festivals. — VNS