Vietnam wandering souls’ day and Vu Lan ceremony


The wandering soul day in Vietnam is one of biggest ceremonies, just after Tet holiday. It is considered a very sacred event.

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The ancient belief

The ancient vietnames people believe that man has two parts: the soul and the body. When a man dead, the soul leaves the body, the body decomposes but the soul will continue to live on. The soul can return to heaven, or reincarnate (as a person or things), or be exiled to hell according to the good or bad things he has done when still alive. However, the oldsters also believe that if a person has made serious mistaken or has to suffer from bad karma, the souls are not received by heaven or hell and he  must wander and suffer from cold or hunger living.

Because of their belief deep in the mind, most Vietnamese keep the worship of ancestors and relatives who passed away, even when the worship is not consistent with the doctrine of the religion they follow. Offering soul can be a humanitarian act, to “save” miserable souls. But at the same time, worshiping souls can also be a form of “bribe” to prevent the innocent souls, or to be “support” them.

Some families doing business, they donate souls many times a year, usually on the second and sixth lunar month every month. On the occasion of sacrifice, in addition to worshiping ancestors, people also make a tray to worship her soul. The biggest worship festival is the full moon day of July, which coincides with the Buddhist festival of Vu Lan. Some believe that the worship of the soul originates from the Vu Lan day.

Wandering soul day via Nguoi viet bao

How to do the ceremony

This is a day that the oldsters have always said, “the living and the dead meet in thought,” and traditional rites should be respected by all. Weather permitting, the services should be in the open air. Otherwise, the largest room in the house should be used so that there is room for many wandering souls.

During the ceremony, huge tables are covered with offerings which basically consist of three kinds of meat: boiled chicken, roast pork, and crabs; and five fruits. Other foods may be included such as sticky rice cakes, vermicelli soup, and meat rolls to satisfy the appetite of the wandering souls who are supposed to be hungry the year round.

Money and clothes made of votive papers are also burned at this time.

Butcher shops are especially careful to observe this holiday. Many people believe in reincarnation. Therefore, butchers are afraid that they might have killed some poor person. Also, Vietnamese believe it is extremely bad luck to die away from home. Therefore, transportation carriers who have had fatalities among its passengers strictly observe the ceremonies.

Vu Lan day via Nguoi Viet

Vu Lan Day

As the lunar July is coming, many Vietnamese families start to make preparations for the Vu Lan festival (Ullambana). It is also known as the Amnesty of Unquiet Spirits. After the lunar New Year (Tet) festival, this is the second largest annual traditional festival of Vietnam, and is celebrated by Vietnamese people participating in various religious rituals and humanitarian activities.

The tradition has very old roots, but it continues unaltered to this day, with families putting out offerings – flowers, fruits, sticky rice cakes, boiled cassava, sweet potatoes and sugarcane – to nurture the souls of their ancestors. The Vu Lan Day is a continiuation of the tradition of seeking forgiveness for the sins of deceased parents, so that they may be spared the tortures of hell and may return home. This day is also a mark of gratitude towards deceased parents. Lights are set afloat on the river to guide the wandering souls to nirvana. Also, on this night food is spread out on an altar within the house to appease the souls’ hunger, and false money is burnt as an offering to honor them.

The Vu Lan festival is an ideal and special event for foreign visitors who want to discover Vietnam’s culture, to experience and to understand more about Vietnamese values. Behind this very important festival, there is a legend of its origin and meaning which not all Vietnamese people know about.

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