Rose on a Cross… Start of the holy week. On Palm Sunday at Notre-Dame Basilica, Ho Chi Minh City
Rose on a Cross… Start of the holy week. On Palm Sunday at Notre-Dame Basilica, Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon wears her yellow garb during Tết (Tết Nguyên Đán) or the Vietnamese lunar new year. Every nook and cranny is filled with pots and planters full of Chrysanthemums, sunflowers, Hoa Mai ( Ochna integerrima/ yellow apricot flowers) and marigolds. The colour of prosperity and cheer fills the town. Local markets and flower markets are thronged with hundreds of people just before the new year day. Red is another prominent colour during tet. Today is the first day of the lunar new year.
cau doi- decorative red banners with couplets-hanging everywhere
Signature Tet flowers
Vietnamese celebrate Tết with great zest and never fail to be with their family for the one week long new year celebrations. The city looks almost deserted on new year day as most of the families go to their hometowns to be with their family members,cooking special tet dishes, paying obeisance to the Kitchen God and other gods, visiting pagodas and honouring their ancestors.
Hoa Mai plants in full bloom, fruit bearing kumquat or Clementine shrubs are essential for each household and business centre.
Gorgeous Hoa Mai blossoms are the signature tet flowers in the South.
Fabulous Hoa dao or peach blossoms, Northerners’ favourite
fruit bearing kumquat
Fabulous pink peach flowers or Hoa Doa are the signature Tet blossoms in North Vietnam. Tet is incomplete without marumi kumquat/ citrus japonica. The shrubs full of fruits are a symbol of good luck, prosperity and gaiety.
ornately carved coconuts and grape fruits
The five fruit platter is another indispensable offering at the altars during Tet. Fruits in the tray vary from region to region. Many exotic fruits as well as uniquely shaped pomelos, watermelons and coconuts with new year wishes engraved on them are aplenty in the markets.
square shaped watermelon and gold bullion shaped ones
Buddha’s hand fruits and wine gourd shaped pomelos
People bustling around in the markets and streets
Bustling flower markets where hoa mai and hoa dua are for sale
Very similar to Kerala’s new year customs Vietnamese children too would receive Lucky Money (Li xi) from their elders. Tet is the biggest festival in Vietnam; it is a festival of family reunion, exchanging gifts, dining together, remembering one’s ancestors and welcoming the new year.
Envelopes in red and gold to keep Li Xi or lucky money
May this Year of the Dog bring good luck, happiness, health, peace and prosperity to all of us!
Tet Trung Thu or Mid Autumn Festival or Moon Festival is a significant festival among the many festivals in Vietnam. It is a harvest festival and also a festival for children. 15th day of the 8th lunar month is celebrated as the Moon festival. Worshipping the god of Earth for bountiful harvest and increase in livestock are part of the rituals connected to this festival. In olden days parents were too busy with rice harvesting and other chores that they could hardly spend any time with their children. Soon after the harvest they would dedicate a day for their children, playing with them, buying them goodies and toys, telling them stories and so on. Parents prepare moon cakes, and families have meals together listening to stories. Children enjoy colourful lion dances on the streets, walk around with beautifully crafted paper lanterns. The benevolent Harvest Moon smiles as the air is filled with mirth and gaiety.
Anh Trung Thu (Mid Autumn cakes) or Moon cakes are an integral part of the Moon Festival, everyone gifts moon cakes to friends and families. We too got our share in beautiful packages.
Lotus seed paste and orange peel flavour
Apart from the traditional moon cakes made of a sweet crust and salty egg yolk with bean paste or shark fin filling in the centre, varieties of exotic flavours are available these days. Salted lime and caramel, tiramisu and coffee, lotus seed and orange paste, pumpkin seeds and pork meat floss, mangosteen, durian, green tea paste and macadamia nuts are a few other innovative flavours among the list.
Children carry paper lanterns of different shapes. Carp shaped paper lanterns are common and have a story behind. There once lived an evil spirit of a carp that used to kill humans during Mid Autumn festival. In order to scare the spirit away people carried carp shaped lanterns at night. The spirit was terrified and people were never troubled afterwards. Carrying carp shaped lanterns is an important custom during the moon festival.
Tables are set in front of houses with food, moon cakes, fruits and many other goodies to offer the moon. Families gather and enjoy the meals together. Drum beats and laughter is in the air. Children happily walk around carrying lanterns.
Glimpse of a lantern hurrying to take part in the festivities
Starry starry nights…star shaped lanterns too are very popular
The other day the moon came in my dreams; a big bright moon that had the shadows of a man and a tree. I was standing at the riverside gazing at the big moon, spellbound, thinking how could I miss those shadows all these years! The dream was so real and lingered on for a while. I have always tried to look for the shadows of a rabbit or a deer on the moon from the songs and poems I have heard. This fascinating dream was a result of reading Vietnamese folk tales on the moon and the man in the moon.
In Vietnam there are many a folklore associated with the Man in the Moon. A popular story is about man called Chu Cuoi, a buffalo boy. Once he accidentally killed a tiger cub and hid himself from the wrath of its mother. Then he witnessed this strange sight of the mother tiger bringing back her cub to life using the leaves of a banyan tree. Cuoi took the magical tree home. He cured many incurable diseases and even brought back the dead to life using the leaves of the banyan tree. When his wife ill treated the sacred tree the angry tree flew to the sky. A desperate Chu Cuoi tried to stop the tree by pulling it, but he too was carried to the moon and now the tree and Chu Cuoi live in the moon.
Chu Cuoi and the banyan tree~ an artist’s imagination
Usually September full moon is called the Harvest Moon, the full moon that rises closest to the Autumnal equinox. In Kerala Onam the harvest festival is celebrated around this time when the nights are lit up with milky moon light called ‘Chinga nilaavu’. This year the September full moon appeared early where as the October full moon came closer to the Autumnal equinox date, hence it is given the the Harvest moon title. This is the second October Harvest moon in ten years and the next one is in 2020 as per National Geographic reports . In north India October full moon is called Sharad poornima that marks the end of monsoon.
Harvest moon is unusually big and bright as the moon comes closest to the earth. In the past the bright moonlight was a blessing to the farmers who were busy with the harvest season. Even after sunset, farmers could work late in the night and they prepare their bushels ready to be filled by the full moon day. Thus they called the full moon the harvest moon. It was a time to rejoice with family after days of hard work.
Can you see Chu Cuoi, sitting under the banyan tree, playing the flute and gazing down at the Earth?
I ventured on moon gazing on full moon day. Though I could not capture the bright orange rising moon as the sky was overcast, I could click a pale orange moon against a hazy sky before dark clouds swallowed him.
”Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing at the earth?”~ Shelley
The most mesmerizing fact I learnt about the harvest moon is that the moon rises much before sunset and sets after sunrise. It was a spectacular sight to gaze at the orange hued moon on the blue morning sky!
(a click from last year)
The moon was reluctant to leave, he lingered on the sky to greet the sun.
Moon tales never end.. Moon obsessed people go over the moon every time there is a bright moon in the sky!
This obsession for lotus, ‘the queenliest of flowers’ has been rekindled once I was relocated to the South East Asian region. The abundance of the flower filled me with boundless joy! Lotus was considered divine and not so common in my childhood days, yet through pictures, poems and songs the flower became familiar. My child ego took great pride in sketching elaborate lotus flowers standing erect in the blue waters and it was a joyful task filling the petals with rich pink, and painting the broad leaves bright green and the waters deep blue, from where the flower rises proudly. Very much alike the example of the single story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche recounts in her Ted Talks, my art was not based on a real experience; the sketches were purely based on imagination and copies of the pictures I have seen. Water lilies were common then, but lotus flower was not so commonly seen. The existence of white or blue lotuses were unimaginable those days! Nevertheless, the famous legendary blue lotus of our village was a fascinating myth.
Blue Lotus has a dreamy aura about it. There is something magical and mystical in the name. The blue lotus that appears in Egyptian culture and Greek mythology could be the blue water lily; Nymphaea caerulea (Egyptian lotus, blue water lily, sacred water lily) or Nymphaea nouchali (Blue star water lily which is the National flower of Sri Lanka) and not Lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera ( Indian lotus, national flower of India and Vietnam). Thus I came to the conclusion that Blue Lotus is scientifically water lily and symbolically blue lotus.
Buddhism has close association with the flower lotus just as Hinduism does. In Buddhism lotus is a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening. The flower rises pure and fragrant above the muddy waters. In Buddhist art and literature lotus motifs are highly symbolic. A fully bloomed flower symbolises enlightenment where as the one in bud form shows a period before enlightenment. Different coloured lotus also has different symbolism. Lotus motifs are present in mandalas and chakras too. My long association with the Cambodian and Vietnamese cultures drew me more towards learning the significance of this flower.
Apart from the spiritual aspect, lotus and water lilies play a major role in the everyday life of the layman. Both are widely used in South Asian kitchens. In Khmer and Vietnamese cuisine water lilies are used in soups and salads. Lotus tea and Blue lotus tea are widely available in Vietnam. Both the flowers are renowned for medicinal properties too.
Blue lotus tea
In Egyptian culture the blue lotus is associated with rebirth. Very much alike the Hindu mythology the Sun and Lotus have close connection in Egyptian mythology too. In Hindu mythology Lotus is Sun’s beloved; Lotus has no existence without the Sun. During the churning of the ocean goddess Lakshmi comes out standing on the lotus where as in Egyptian mythology sun god Ra, the creator, emerged from the primeval waters sitting on a lotus. Like Sun who disappears at night and comes back to life in the morning, the lotus flower re-emerges from water everyday. Per contra, most of the water lilies bloom at night hence called the beloved of the Moon.
A painting inspired by the mystical and mysterious Blue Lotus of my village
Scholars say that the blue lotus is widely depicted on the walls, pillars, thrones, papyrus scrolls and head dresses of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The bloom was known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile. I read an interesting article by Kirsten Cowart where the restorative powers of this sacred flower is mentioned.
An Egyptian lady surrounded and adorned by blue lotuses. The flowers resemble water lilies here.
Egyptian murals and carvings portraying men and women indulging in revels, holding bunches of blue lotuses and smelling them could be a hint on the intoxicating properties of the flower. The god of Healing power and Perfume, Nefertem holds bunches of blue lotus and he offers this to Ra, the sun god to sooth his pain.
It seems the flower has properties to calm the nerves and brain. Homer in his Odyssey mentions about Odysseus’ men who fall into a blissful forgetfulness after munching the lotus flower and fruits. He had to drag his men back to the ship and tie them to the rowing benches to resume their voyage back home. I wonder whether it is the blue lotus that has enchanted and ensnared the Greek heroes.
In Tennyson’s ‘The Lotus Eaters’ he weaves the story around the same isle where Ulysses ( Odysseus) and his mariners had spent time. The enchanted flower the Lotus eaters of the island offered them had the power to change their minds. The mariners wanted to linger on that dreamy island forever. They come to the conclusion that ‘slumber is more sweet than toil.
My Blue Lotus has an entirely different shade of blue. The blue lotus I have heard and wondered about right form my early childhood is one of its kind, a faith or a myth associated with a temple in our village.
The serene temple premises
The story that intrigued us as children is about a sacred bloom called neelathamara (നീലത്താമര) . Those who keep a coin on the steps of the sanctum sanctorum of a nearby temple, with a wish in their heart, would be blessed to see a bloom in the temple pond the next morning. This would be a sign that the wish is going to be fulfilled. The unique flower is known as Neelathamara the malayalam equivalent of Blue Lotus. Neela thamara sounds more royal and desirable than chengazhineer poovu another mediocre name for the bloom.
The practice still continues but with changing times not many venture this divine intervention for personal favours. The flower is exclusively used for certain special auspicious rituals and sacred rites (കലശം,പ്രതിഷ്ഠ) in other temples, such as idol installation or for the glorification of the deity. The divine flower blooms in the morning in one of the deep rock pits on either side of the pond, provided the money is kept on the temple steps the previous evening.
stones that stood the test of time
My visit to the temple was after a long interval of more than ten years. Previous visit was with my father and for no reason I have never been there after he left us to the heavenly abode. The day we went, we were told that neelathamara was abloom that day as a temple in a distant district needed the flower for an auspicious occasion, but we missed the chance to see the sacred flower.
The temple pond
The kokkarni or the deep rock pit at the side of the pond
The 300 year temple in our little hamlet was always referred as Manokkavu, a shortened and colloquial version of Malamalkavu (മലമൽക്കാവ്). The temple sits on a hillock hence the name, the temple on the hill… It is quite interesting when my daughter told me that there is place called Manukau in Auckland!
When there’s too much rains that threaten a function to be held in a household or when there’s a need for rains for the crops to grow, people in my village offer a ‘koottupayasam‘ (കൂട്ടുപായസം) or a sweet rice dish to the temple deity and their woes are taken care of. A koottupayasam or ‘ada’ (അട) was a usual offering that my grandmother used to do then. The devotees are never disappointed as Lord Ayyappa always heard their prayers.
The story of the Neelathamara has remained mysterious and fascinated our minds. Am still curious about the appearance of the flower. The blue lotus like the blue moon has nothing blue about it, I understand. This same Blue lotus has been the theme of a famous Malayalam film, based on the story of the veteran writer M.T Vasudevan Nair from our nearby village. In the early part of this century the film was remade to become a huge hit once again. Even though Malamalkkavu is already well reputed as one of the two major schools of Thayambaka, the Percussion music in Kerala, the temple that is nestled in an unknown corner of Palakkad district earned more fame through M.T’s story, Lal Jose’s and Late Yousafali Kecheri’s films based on the story.
Yours truly and her mother in front of the age-old ootupura
Certain beliefs have no scientific explanations and Neelathamara remains an enigma. The simple and good hearted souls of this small village has deep faith and great pride in their powerful deity and this miraculous flower.
Here they come! The energetic, electrifying dancing gods of our Valluvanad or South Malabar. With the accompaniment of the pulsating ‘chenda’ or the booming drums and the loud cling clang of the cymbals they shake the earth with their frenzied steps. Our culturally rich and vibrant Valluvanad resonates with festival tunes during the Malayalam months Makaram, Kumbham and Meenam. Soon after the paddy harvest the empty stubble fields set the stage for the many ritualistic folk art performers who pay respect to the local deities.
Rituals and customs are entwined with the village life and the small festivals are a post harvest celebration and are conducted to bring blessings and prosperity to the village. The dust, the heat, the cheer, the shouts, the zeal and the colours make the barren paddy fields a kaelidoscope.
The heady scent of frangipani garlands worn around the oracles (velichapadu), the tinkling sounds of the heavy ritual ornaments, the brandishing sabres and the vigorous dancing steps of the velichapad, karinkali, parathira, poothan, thira et al fill the festive air with excitement. This year it all started with our annual family pooja called Ariprapattu…
One day and one night of sacred rituals, offerings, music are observed. This is to please the family goddess for her blessings and the welfare of the family members.
The hooked sword and the brass belt with small bells of the velichapad is kept ready on his peeddam or four-legged stool.
The frangipani flower garland of the velichapad
The intricate design called Kalam made of natural organic powders.
The brass ‘vaalkkanadi’ that represents the goddess
A blog on Tet, the Vietnamese new year was on its way in February along with vibrant pictures, but a very bad eye infection stopped me from posting it. Seasons change in the wink of an eye! It is the Uttarayana period, the period starting from Capricorn Zodiac (Makara Rashi) up to Gemini Zodiac (Mithuna Raasi). As per Hindu beliefs gods are awake during this period as those six months are considered a single day for them. Uttarayana is also referred as Devayana. Since it is the daytime for Gods, many auspicious ceremonies and rituals are performed during this period to appease them.
The golden paddy fields, just before the harvest, in the month Dhanu
Soon after Tet I visited a Kerala that was writhing under the scorching sun. Now is the time for small village festivals.
Harvesters have come and conquered our small village Anakkara too!
Bales of hay waiting for the tractors
Fields are bare and dry and the Ashokas and the Golden Showers try their best to splash a little colour here and there. They hardly know the riot of colour that the festivals are going to bring!
The most exciting part of the small ‘velas‘ in and around our Anakkara is the various ritualistic folk art performances. Unlike ‘pooram‘ a slightly bigger festival where decked up elephants are an integral part, velas lack the grace and pomp of the elephants.
Various village communities are in charge of different dancing gods. After Makara koythu (the harvest in the month Makaram) bales of hay are scattered here and there. Harvesting machines have reached our Anakkara too. Pottammel vela starts with the oracle or Choppan, as he is known to us, making a grand entry walking all the way to the temple pausing in front of houses, dancing and blessing the village folk waiting on the way.
Choppan (the oracle clad in red) of our desham walks to the temple through the village roads. In front of their houses devotees wait patiently for the choppan irakkam. He walks up and down in a trance like state. He is the mediator between the deity and the devotees. Once he reaches the temple premises he would move in frenzied steps and makes predictions.
I haven’t seen a parathira, poothan or thira for a very long time. After many years I did see them all, as glorious as before and I realised that some of them can still fill me with awe and fear.
Parathira or Parapoothan dances with swaying, rhythmic steps
Adorned in red black and white attire, both the Parathiras have similar brass breast plates but different head gear; one has peacock feather hair where as the other one has long hair made of bamboo or plantain trunk. I have to learn more about them.
The fierce and fearsome Karinkali!
”Beware!Beware! His flashing eyes his floating hair…Close your eyes in holy dread!”
They come stomping the village roads and the stubble fields! Smeared with charcoal paste and wearing a heart shaped head gear decorated with young coconut leaves the Karinkali takes the onlookers by storm. This awe inspiring black goddess is a ritualistic performance by a particular community. Thira, wearing the decorated head gears engraved with the goddess figure is not fearsome. They are a happy bunch! The animated, friendly and bouncy thira performers are a treat for the eyes. Our ‘desham’ witnessed a colourful Theyyam procession too this year. Theyyams are not common in South Malabar; this was just to add some colours to the festival. The festival season comes to an end before Vishu, that marks the start of the harvest year, the beginning of agricultural activities. Soon the oncoming monsoon would turn the fields to lakes, setting stage for the music of rains, cicadas and frogs. Kalachakra, the wheel of time moves on.
Here comes another full moon; the first full moon of the year 2017. The full moon of January is called the Full Wolf Moon, Hunger Moon or the Cold Moon… It is said that wolves howled out of hunger in the cold winter month and hence the name wolf moon. As usual I set out to the river side to get a glimpse of the year’s first full moon and had to wait for long as the sky was overcast…I couldn’t click the rising Moon in its splendour, yet captured her when she came out lifting the veil of thin dark clouds. A pale face and a paler smile. Under Emily’s spell and her poems I too started considering Moon as a woman these days!
The veil was lifted gently and the Moon showed her pale face and smiled
The first full moon of the year
In Hindu mythology, unlike the Greek and Roman mythologies, Moon is a male god. Among hundreds of our Hindu gods Moon is Chandra, born along with goddess Lakshmi when the Ocean of Milk was churned to get ‘Amrit’ ( the nectar of immortality). The crescent moon adorns the matted locks of Lord Siva
When we were children at the sight of the first crescent moon, after the dark phase we used to look up and recite,
Ksheera saagara sampanna/Lakshmi priya sahodara
Haram makuta vaasanam/Baalachandra namo namah:
[ Oh young lord Chandra, who was born of the Ocean of Milk (who spreads the milky moonlight), who is the brother of goddess Lakshmi, the one who adorns Lord Siva’s head, I bow to thee]
and offer a white thread to the baby moon, symbolic of white cloth to the new born lord and also to thank his benevolent presence. He is a pleasant god, pleasing, friendly, radiant and handsome; favourite god of moony eyed lovers and poets. He has that family-member-kind of an aura about him, and children of our generation have heard him being mentioned as Ambilimama or Chandamama (Uncle Moon).
He has many names Soma, Sasi, Shashank (as a hare is believed to sit on his lap-shasham= hare, ankam= lap), Thinkal… to name a few. Strangely some synonyms like Ambili and Indu were considered both male and female names. Those were common names and most of the households in my young days had one Sasi or Soman or Chandran to their credit. Learning synonyms was part of our Malayalam curriculum and while many of my friends hated this ordeal of learning the many synonyms of different words I was passionate about learning and memorising them.
Chandra is the god of vegetation and fertility, he rides an antelope. Monday is Moon’s day. Moon plays a major part in Indian traditions, festivals, astronomy and vedic astrology. It is believed that the movement of the sun, the moon and seven other planets across the lunar and solar houses plays an important role in the destiny of man.
Like other celestial bodies moon travels through the solar houses as well as the lunar houses. Moon’s orbital period is 27 days. In mythology Moon is married to 27 nakshatras, daughters of Daksha (the 27 lunar mansions). Rohini, ( the lunar house Taurus where he is exalted) is his favourite and he waxes as he gets closer to her and wanes as he goes away from her. On the 28th day when he is alone without the feminine presence, the sky is dark. I have talked about these Moon tales in an earlier blog too.
The festival Thiruvathira, a traditional festival of Kerala is celebrated on the asterism Thiruvathira; the 6th star of the 27 nakshatras, in the fifth month Dhanu (December-January) as per the Malayalam lunar calendar. There are many mythological stories about this auspicious day. Thiruvathira of Dhanu is said to be Lord Siva’s birthday, the day Siva and Parvati were married, also the day Ratidevi, wife of Kamadeva (the counterpart of Cupid) prayed and won her husband’s life after an angry Siva burnt Kama to ashes as he had disturbed Siva’s yogic meditation. Usually Thiruvathira falls on a full moon day but this year it was on the previous day of the full moon. Thiruvathira is exclusively a women’s festival. Women observe certain rituals for the well being of their spouse. Special prayers are offered to Siva-Parvati. Women and young girls observe a partial fasting and abstain from rice based dishes. Thiruvathira has its own special dishes; a dish made of tuber vegetables called puzhukku, a sweet dish made of arrow root powder, jaggery and clarified butter, broken wheat porridge are the main menu of the day. Tender coconut and bananas are an integral part of Thiruvathira.
I have my small share of memories when the ladies of the house strictly followed the traditional festival in all its glory. A fragment of the memories is of an early morning bath in the spacious pond in our ancestral home on one cold December morning. My grand mother and other women were singing and splashing the water with the fist in a rhythmic movement called ‘Thudi’. A sleepy five year old me sat on the steps to watch this ritual. After the bath they lit a bonfire and were talking about ‘pathirappoochoodal’ another ritual of adorning the hair with some flowers and herbs. My memory fades there.
Thiruvathirakkali a beautiful and graceful dance form is associated with the festival. Women clad in traditional Kerala attire circle round a brass lamp and dance in a sinuous rhythmic way swaying slowly to the music. Literally resembling ‘thiruvathira’ (a sacred big wave). I ventured this dance form much later in life with a group of friends in Cambodia and realised how much joy one can receive from being together, learning and dancing. Thanks to a dear dancer friend Vidya who patiently taught us this elegant dance form. I could share the stage with my daughter was another bonus point.
After a long time I throughly enjoyed a starlit night sky in January, the bright Venus outshining all the stars!
I couldn’t complete my post yesterday. Today is Friday the 13th and I learnt a fascinating new word. It is written that if you can pronounce the word properly, you’re cured of this phobia 🙂
PARASKAVEDEKATRIAPHOBIA- a terrible fear of Friday the 13th.
Paraskavedekatriaphobia is from the Greek paraskevi( Friday) and dekatrria (thirteen)
Here’s to an year of celestial marvels!
Vietnam is celebrating the month long festival of the hungry ghosts or Vu Lan festival now. Vu Lan which is also called Trung Nguyen, is closely connected to the Asian tradition of ancestral worship. In some of the other Asian countries too ‘All Souls Day’ falls on the full moon day or 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It is a time for remembering the departed souls and also a reminder to honour one’s parents. Many Taoists and Buddhists believe that it is the duty of the living to appease the departed by offering food and effigies of daily used items to make their afterlife comfortable. Vu Lan is considered the second prominent traditional festival after Tet. It is interesting to know that “Vu Lan” is a Sanskrit-Chinese phonetic transcription of Ullambana (also called Vu Lan Bon). It means salvation or deliverance from suffering of the tormented souls. The festival has close similarities to the Khmer ”Pchum Ben”. Although there are differences in the customs and beliefs, the basic rituals and the spirit remain the same.
‘Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right.’ ~John Donne
Blue plumes of smoke from the incense sticks, occasional gonging and its reverberation, the solemn atmosphere add to the mystical and prayerful mood of the pagodas.
The Vietnamese take part in many religious and humanitarian activities during this period. They visit pagodas with votive offerings, burn incense sticks, release caged birds and fish to their natural environment, give alms to monks and the poor. They offer food and fruits to the wandering souls. Many who follow traditions stick to vegetarian diet during this Spirit month. This period is an occasion to express gratitude and filial piety to parents and forefathers. This is also believed to be the time for the King of Heaven to judge and mete out reward or punishment, hence people perform good deeds to earn punya or spiritual merits. People offer food, clothes and medicines to monks and nuns in the monasteries. Vu Lan is also celebrated as Mother’s Day by Vietnamese people to express their gratitude to their mothers.
Caged to be freed…birds are released as an act of kindness.
Faith spiralling up
spiral joss sticks hanging joyfully from the ceiling with prayer tags
The Ghost Month is also usually associated with bad luck and people rarely start new a business; not many marriages would take place during this month. Though times have changed some follow these customs and beliefs. Back in Kerala too, the present month Karkidakam is considered inauspicious to conduct weddings or house warming ceremonies.
Jade Emperor Pagoda built in honour of the Taoist god, the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven Ngoc Hoang, is one of the important places of worship in Saigon. It is believed that the Jade emperor decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
Thien Hau pagoda- the old Chinese pagoda
It was a fascinating experience to visit a couple of pagodas and observe the rituals being performed. As the general Vietnamese belief is that the departed ancestors continue to live in another realm, the living ones consider it their duty to make them happy and send them back contented. Vu Lan is an occasion to show gratitude and live righteously in response to all that your parents do for you.
The furnace where joss paper money is burnt