Vu Lan Festival is Vietnam's second largest annual festival and is celebrated throughout the country to ward off bad spirits.
We must admit, we're usually drinking spirits at festivals rather than warding them away, but Vu Lan Festival is dedicated to praying and leaving offerings to spirits in hope for a better life.
Celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month in the Lunar Calendar, the festival dates back to when Muc Kien Lien (Maudgalyayana), a principle disciple of Buddha, was meditating and saw that his mother was suffering from the tortures of hell. Buddha advised Muc Kien Lien to gather monks and devotees and pray with them to ease her suffering. The festival has now taken on a role as a celebration of parents (particularly mothers) and is Vietnam's answer to Mother's Day. Nowadays it is commonplace for Buddhist countries to offer food, clothing and other items to hungry spirits in the month when the realms of heaven, hell and the living are open.
People celebrate by visiting pagodas and temples to worship ghosts and spirits by offering food, clothes and other items. Pagodas get very crowded on the festival day as there is a monk's lecture which many Buddhists attend. Many people wear a flower on their chest to signify their parents. This is often a rose, and is red in colour if their parents are living, and white if they have passed away. After the lecture, people return home for a huge (often vegetarian) lunch with the whole family.
In the evenings, people lay trays of food outside their homes. They then light incense and pray for homeless souls. At night they release lanterns on the river, and wish for their health. This makes for a beautiful show of colour and light.
The Vu Lan Festival celebrates diversity which can be seen in the activities throughout the city. Many restaurants and hotels offer vegetarian buffets and promotions for parents and senior citizens. Popular activities during the festival include buying and releasing caged birds, fish and small animals in hope that the good deeds will earn them credits for a better incarnation in their next life.
Throw away your usual tipple, and get on board with a new kind of spirit at the Vu Lan Festival.
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