Folk religion in Vietnam is a long-established Vietnamese religion that reflects the locals' life in the past and their beliefs in supernatural forces applied in daily life events. Therefore, this indigenous religion usually creates unique ethnic customs and becomes an indispensable part when it comes of Vietnamese traditions. Promoting human and national values, folk religion is characterized by Vietnamese Gods worshiping and venerating.
Vietnamese Gods are imaginary figures or real people who have passed away and left historical or educational lessons to people of all generations in Vietnam. Gods can be the national heroes, features told in tales for their goodness and diligence, or even the normal kind-hearted people. When they died, people assumed they went to heaven, watching over their livings, protected peace and luck. There are many Vietnamese Gods worshiped in temples with different myths and stories about them.
Once upon a time, there was a dragon king named Lac Long Quan ruling the ocean and a fairy named Au Co living on the high mountains of Vietnam. They fell in love with each other and got married afterward. As a result of their passionate love, Au Co gave birth to a sack of 100 hundred eggs which hatch into 100 people.
However, the nature of a water person and the nature of a mountain girl make their lives incompatible. Finally, they decided to separate; Lac Long Quan brought 50 kids to the sea and the rest of the kids stayed on the land with Au Co. They promised to help each other when they were in need. The myth became a folk religion in Vietnam and it is believed that their kids later became the ancestors, the first king of Vietnamese, Hung Vuong, and the Vietnamese are the descendants of the Dragon and Fairy.
Hung Vuong Temple in Tao Dan Park, Ho Chi Minh City
To commemorate the Great Mother and Great Father of Vietnamese, they are worshiped as Vietnamese Gods in the Lac Long Quan Temple and Au Co Temple located in Phu Tho Province with many festivals on Tet Holiday and Hung Kings Festival in late April annually. Also, there are some streets named after them in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh as a way to show great respect for Vietnamese to our early ancestors.
Under the ruling of the 6th Hung King, an old farmer couple was wishing for a child. One day when the wife put her feet on a mysterious giant footprint to compare, she soon got pregnant afterward and gave birth to a boy, but he couldn’t speak or walk even when reaching the age of 3. At the time, the country was on the verge of being invaded, the king asked the ambassador to seek a brave man fighting for the country. Surprisingly, the kid suddenly asked his mom to call the ambassador when hearing his voice and required a horse, armor, and a rod made of iron. And while waiting for the armor and weapons, the kid grew so quickly that the whole village had to help his family to feed him.
The statue of Thanh Giong on the iron horse on Soc Son Mountain, Hanoi
When the enemy entered the country, came to the Trau Moutain’s foot, the child has grown and become a powerful guy, waiting for the invader at the mountain. Thanh Giong defeated many of the enemy troops and use the bamboo as a weapon when the iron rod was broken. The invader ran away in panic, but the brave man chased them off to the Soc Son Mountain. Reaching the mountaintop, he took off his armor and flew to heaven.
Thanh Giong became part of the Vietnamese Gods and was sacredly worshiped in Soc Temple in Soc Son District, Hanoi and Phu Dong Temple in Gia Lam District, Hanoi. Also, Giong Festival is an important day of folk religion, which is held on the 6th day of the Tet Holiday at Soc Temple and for 1 week in late May at Phu Dong Temple.
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The 18th Hung King had a beautiful princess named Mi Nuong. When she reached the age of marriage, the king gave the proclamation across the nation to choose the best prince for his dearest daughter. Many young men came with the hope of being the princess’s husband, including 2 guys, Son Tinh, the Mountain Spirit, and Thuy Tinh, the Ocean Spirit. They were equally brilliant, powerful, and handsome. However, the king could choose only one, so he asked that whoever brought the requested wedding presents of valuable and rare items around the country first could marry Mi Nuong.
Tan Vien Son Thanh Temple in Ba Vi District, Hanoi
Son Tinh was the first to be back, got the agreement from the King, and then took the princess to his mountain kingdom. Thuy Tinh, who came second soon afterward, got furious when he knew Son Tinh got married to Mi Nuong. The Ocean Spirit challenged the Mountain Spirit and used his power to call the gusty wind, raise the water to fight Son Tinh. Son Tinh then made the mountains grow even higher, and the war only ended when Thuy Tinh withdrew. However, Thuy Tinh refused to be defeated and continued the war annually. And that is how the Vietnamese in the past explained the yearly monsoon rains and floods, which later on became one of the folk religion in Vietnam.
To Vietnamese, Son Tinh is the symbol of the kind and diligent farmers while Thuy Tinh is the symbol of the harsh weather. To pray for good crops and good weather, people regard Son Tinh as a God and worship him in Tan Vien Son Thanh Temple, Ba Vi District, Hanoi.
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In the past, there was a woman named Thi Nhi and a man named Trong Cao. They got married but often quarreled. One time when Nhi was thrown out by her husband, she left the house and went into the woods. Thi Nhi then found a hut to live, fell in love, and got married to Pham Lang.
After Thi Nhi left, Trong Cao regretted it and decided to go looking for her. He traveled far, ran out of money, and became a beggar. Coincidentally, Trong Cao knocked at Thi Nhi’s house to beg for food and was invited to the house for a meal when Pham Lang was away. Pham Lang then came back, and Thi Nhi had to hide Trong Cao in a bush of straws as she knew how weird it was if they met. However, to enrich the soil, Pham Lang set fire to the straw. To save her ex-husband, Thi Nhi jumped in the fire and Pham Lang also jumped in to stop her. As a result, they all died in the fire.
Vietnamese dedicate to the Kitchen Gods on the 23rd day in the last month of the lunar year
The Jade Emperor knew their story and let them be the 3 Kitchen Gods to be together forever. Since then, these figures have become Vietnamese gods to the guardians of family chores, as well as Heaven's informant of the situation among humankind. This is one of the most popular folk religion in Vietnam and on the 23rd day in the last month of the lunar calendar, the locals give some offerings and the Kitchen Gods leave the earth for heaven on a carp. The 3 gods then report to the Jade Emperor how each family has been doing in the previous year and come back to the world on the Lunar New Year Eve.
Phuc, Loc, Tho are 3 deities of Blessing, Prosperity, and Longevity, which are representatives of the 3 most important qualities of a good life. Their origin is believed to be from two Chinese tales. One is about the well-wishing Nghieu King received from his people which were blessing, prosperity, and longevity, and then return to the people, hoping that everyone could lead a good life. Another story is about 3 mandarines Fu (Blessing), Lu (Prosperity), and Shou (Longevity) who lived happily, with good fortune, and for a long time.
Phuc, Loc, Tho statues made of ceramic
As a result of the 1000-year domination of China and the influence of Chinese culture, the story of 3 deities came to Vietnam and became a part of folk religion in Vietnam until now. Their statues are usually put in the altars, temples, and shrines, mostly of private houses.
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The God of Wealth is the symbol of luck and he is a vital god in Vietnamese folk religion. The Wealth God altar made of wood is often put on the ground near the door of shops, restaurants, or any business building. People often buy golds to keep safe and as a way to receive luck on Than Tai Day on the 10th day of Lunar New Year. This day is very important, especially to people in the business. They usually give offerings to worship this Vietnamese god carefully.
Vietnamese often buy gold on Than Tai Day to receive lucks
The Land Spirit is the land guardian who takes care of the land and the luck of the families. He is regarded as a good friend of Vietnamese farmers with the image of a simple laughing man who is fat with a plump belly, holding a fan. Prior to any building, Vietnamese often hold a ground-breaking ceremony as a way to ask for the Land spirit’s permission. Also, The Land Spirit and the God of Wealth statues are usually put on the same altar for Vietnamese gods on the ground at the house’s corner
Some popular offerings of the Land Spirit include small five-fruit tray, alcohol, and flowers. And people worship the Spirit on the first day and the fifteenth day according to the lunar calendar and important days like Tet Holiday. In short, the Land Spirit is among the most crucial gods of Vietnamese families.
Ong Dia is represented by a jolly, plump man
Holy Mothers are actually three goddesses in folk religion in Vietnam, Mau Lieu Hanh, Mau Thuong Ngan (goddess of the forests), and Mau Thoai (goddess of the water). Mau Lieu Hanh is the main goddess in the belief to worship women in Vietnam and also one of the 4 immortal gods (Son Tinh - the Mountain Spirit, Thanh Giong, Chu Dong Tu, and Lieu Hanh Holy Mother). It is also believed that the other two goddesses were other avatars of her in the human world. She was the second child of Jade Emperor, an exemplary woman of all times, and did many good things to the humans.
The Holy Mother Statue
She is worshiped in some parts of Vietnam, especially North and Central Vietnam, but the most famous temple is Phu Day Relics in Nam Dinh Province. The Phu Day festival in the 3rd month of the lunar calendar is really vibrant with many people come to pray for good luck and a good future. In the festival, people bring a lot of offerings to the Holy Mother statue. There is also a traditional folk art of Hat Van (invocation singing) and folk dancing that people can watch to discover more about the Vietnamese Folk Religion.
Besides the Holy Mother, the Jade Emperor is another famous figure in Vietnamese traditional worshipping
Tran Hung Dao or Saint Tran is a historical figure, the national hero fighting against the Mongols to save the country from being invaded. For his great characters, the Vietnamese regard Tran Hung Dao as a Vietnamese god and a father of the nation. There are many temples and statues set up across the country to dedicate to him. The most famous one is Kiep Bac Temple in Chi Linh District, Hai Duong Province as Hai Duong is where Saint Tran died.
Some other temples venerating him are Tran Temple in Thai Binh Province, Tran Hung Dao Temple in Ninh Binh, and Tran Hung Dao Temple in Tan Dinh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The anniversary date of his death is the 20th day in the 8th month in the lunar calendar, which is also a big memorial event to many people who come to offer incense to Saint Tran, pray for good things, join and watch the folk performances.
Besides, there are other gods like the turtle god, the gods of wind, and crops that have many variants and avatars in different ethnic groups. The folk religion is widely varied thanks to the diversity of races in the country with 54 ethnic groups.
When visiting a religious temple, make sure to wear proper clothes and avoid wearing shorts, skirts, and sleeveless tops
The gods in the Vietnamese folk religion are the symbols of Vietnamese’s hope and personalities over the time of 4,000 years. Now they are worshipped in many temples which have become important attractions in Vietnam. Learning about the gods, visiting their temples, and partaking in the festivals will help you understand the Vietnamese culture and spiritual life better.
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