Vu Lan (also known as Ullambana in Buddhism) is annually held on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month not only in Viet Nam but also in some other East Asia countries. This is one of the biggest festivals of Buddhism and a special occasion for people to express gratitude as well as appreciation towards their parents and ancestors.
The origin of this festival came from the legend of Bodhisattva Maudgalyayana (Muc Kien Lien bo tat), who saved his mother from suffering tortures in hell. Because of committing many evils in previous life, the mother was turned into a hungry ghost when she died and couldn’t eat anything while being tortured in hell. Bodhisattva Maudgalyayana wanted to save her but couldn’t do it on his own. Hence, he asked for Buddha’s guidance and was told to gather monks, devotees and get them to pray together on the 15th of the seventh lunar month in order to relieve his mother. The power of the prayers was so strong that they released not only Maudgalyayana’s mother but also other countless guilty spirits.
Ever since, on the 15th of the seventh lunar month every year, the gate of the hell is believed to be opened for all spirits to back to earth and visit their former home. On this day, to show appreciation towards the deceased, the Vietnamese will prepare a vegetarian feast and burn incenses to invite their ancestors come back home. They also prepare a tray of various fruits, sweets, rice, fake or even real money for the homeless wandering souls. There is one special feature of this tradition called “offering snatching”. After the incenses burn down, people – usually children, are allowed to grab the food or money on the tray. Nobody will stop them because it will anger the wandering spirits according to traditional belief.
During this particular day, thousands of Buddhists visit pagodas to pray for their parents’ health and longevity. Those whose parents have passed away will memorize and pray for them a happy life in the afterlife. At the pagodas, a red rose will usually be hung on someone’s chest if their mother is still alive and if you see a white rose, it means their mother has no longer existed. In Vu Lan festival, people also eat vegetarian food and release animals such as bird, fish, etc.
Besides, the seventh month of lunar month is considered to be the unlucky month or the month of ghost. In this month the Vietnamese, especially the elder, tend not to kill animal (including eating raw things) and do business. There are plenty more abstinence that one should not do during this seventh month to avoid getting bad luck from the spirits.
Vu Lan festival is meaningful in not only the way it help us show respect to the deceased but also the way it remind us to treat our parents well and gratefully. We also learn from this festival the tradition of caring for other people, especially those who are homeless and in difficulty. Vu Lan, along with its noble values, will be remained and developed by the Vietnamese in the next centuries and more.
If you’re interested in Vu Lan festival and want to find out more about the variety of religions or the appealing vegetarian cuisine in Viet Nam, please contact Tiger Tours via email firstname.lastname@example.org to have a special custom tour tailored to you.