Sacred festivals draw millions of pilgrims to renowned pagodas

Update: February, 07/2014 - 08:50
The Au Co Mother Temple Festival opened yesterday in Hien Luong Commune, Phu Tho Province. The days immediately following Tet sees millions of people set out on pilgrimages to ensure an auspicious start to the Lunar New Year. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan.

HA NOI (VNS)— The much-awaited Yen Tu Festival will open on Sunday in the northern province of Quang Ninh.

The popular spring festival will be celebrated until the end of the third lunar month in Thuong Yen Cong Commune, Uong Bi City.

Organisers said that they have abided by instructions from the culture ministry to ensure an "appropriate" atmosphere at the festival. Those who violate regulations and engage in superstitious acts will be fined, they said.

Last year more than 2.1 million people attended the festival, said Hoang Thi Ha, deputy chairwoman of the Quang Ninh People's Committee and head of the Organising Committee.

"This year, 2.5-2.6 million pilgrims are expected to attend the consecration of Vietnamese Buddhist King Tran Nhan Tong's bronze statue," Ha said.

The increased numbers will make it harder for the organising board, but it will take strong measures to maintain order and ensure the event's success, she said.

"Pilgrims will not have to pay entrance fees and stalls selling goods and services have been assigned to convenient locations with their prices clearly stated as required by the organising board.

"Any manifestation of superstition like rubbing small money on statues of Buddha will be dealt with strictly," Ha added.

Deputy PM opens festival

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Wednesday beat a traditional drum to open the Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival in the presence of thousands of Buddhist monks and pilgrims.

Located in Gia Sinh Commune, Gia Vien District, Ninh Binh Province, the 1,000-year-old pagoda is where King Dinh Tien Hoang had set up an altar to pray for favourable conditions for people all year round. It is also the place where King Quang Trung offered a sacrifice to the flag on the occasion of a military parade to motivate his soldiers before heading to Thang Long (old name of Ha Noi ) to fight the Qing aggressors.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, a member of the festival organising board, said Ninh Binh Province has taken several measures to keep the environment clean and prevent violations.

The Xuan Truong Company has pressed 200 electric buses into service for pilgrims and tourists, and has publicised its prices, said Thanh.

The festival will close at the end of the third lunar month.

Nguyen Phuong Nhung from the central province of Da Nang said it was her second visit to the pagoda.

"My family and I come here to pray for us and our relatives and friends to be blessed with good health and good luck. I am impressed with the atmosphere and arrangements, which has improved a lot compared with the disorder last year."

Avoiding commercialisation

Viet Nam celebrates around 8,000 festivals every year, including several folk festivals and rituals during the Tet holidays. Culture ministry officials say they are attempting to ensure that these festivals are not overly commercialised and continue to reflect the true values of Vietnamese culture.

According to Pham Van Thuy, Director of the Department of Local Culture under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the celebration of folk festivals around the country has helped to conserve the values of the local culture, as well educate the young generation about the local traditions.

The various craft festivals have introduced unique Vietnamese craftsmanship to the international community and benefited the growth of tourism and trade, he added.

However, several issues are gradually emerging, which could lower the public's interest in these festivals, including congestion and chaos caused by huge crowds of people, gambling and an increase in petty theft.

Thuy listed the festivals in the Tran Temple in Nam Dinh Province, the Hung Temple in the Phu Tho Province, and the Huong Pagoda in Ha Noi as the main festivals and locations where such problems are becoming major issues.

The ministry official also noted that the reconstruction, redesign and restoration at several cultural and religious sites had ruined the values and heritage of the local communities.

In addition, the visitors to these festivals are frequently harassed by fake beggars, as well as charged high prices for the goods sold at these events. These problems cast the country's festivals in a bad light.

The ministry aims to intensify the monitoring of such activities and will insist on closer collaboration with the local cultural agencies to monitor the various activities held during the festivals at various localities.

In addition, it will encourage visitors and participants at the festivals to follow the guides provided by organisers, and stop any actions deemed contrary to the nation's traditions and culture, including burning votive papers outside the designated areas, gambling and sticking money on statues at religious sites. — VNS