Celebrate Vietnamese culture and the myth of Tu Dao Hanh at the Thay Pagoda Festival in Hanoi.
Ever heard of water puppetry? No, us either. However, at the Thay Pagoda Festival in Hanoi, the art and its inventor are a cause for celebration.
The Thay Pagoda Festival is held annually on the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month, and lasts for at least a week. It pays homage to Vietnamese folk hereo Tu Dao Hanh, an innovator, inventor and Buddhist monk who made significant advances in medicine and religion. He is most famous among locals however, for inventing Vietnamese water puppetry.
The legend states that at the end of his life, Tu Dao Hanh sat in meditation for months on end without food or water and ultimately died in that position. His ashes now lie in the pagoda, where people come to pay their respects. Although this area has numerous pagodas, the festival is held mainly in Thay Pagoda, which is comprised of three buildings; the ante-chamber, Buddha's Building and the Building of the Genius.
The festival has a solemn start, as locals worship Buddha to the sound of traditional music. The bathing ritual of Tu Dao Hanh's statue takes place before this, and sees people from all over coming to participate. The festival starts properly with a procession of Buddhist pilgrims and followers, alongside water puppetry performances. The procession usually reaches the pagoda at twilight, just as night is beginning to take over from day.
One of the main events is the procession of the tablets, where all four villages connected to the pagoda take part. The locals believe that Tu Dao Hanh had supernatural powers and became a genius, before embracing Buddhism at a later date. At the start of the procession, the tablets are wrapped in yellow cloth (to symbolise the robes worn by priests thought to have supernatural powers) and on the return trip the tablets are wrapped in the brown robes worn by monks. At the heart of the procession, Buddhist nuns walk whilst recounting the feats of Tu Dao Hanh. Ceremonies connected with the festival feature the presenting of incense sticks, theatrical folk plays, chess games and the infamous water puppet shows.
Visitors flock to the Thay Pagoda Festival from all over, many of whom are drawn in by the mystery surrounding Monk Tu Dao Hanh, the beautiful scenery, and the water puppet shows. The festival takes place a short 30 minute drive from Hanoi, and provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in some Vietnamese culture. Who knows, you might even leave with a newfound love of water puppetry.
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