Vietnam is no different, and they have many of their own traditions regarding incense.
Incense, known as either “Hương” or “Nhang” in Vietnam, is an integral part of the Vietnamese identity and you will find it burning everywhere, from pagodas, to storefronts, private houses, and even on the streets. It is also commonly burned as a religious offering.
In addition to everyday use, there are also many festivals in Vietnam where incense is often burned. These festivals are important to the Vietnamese people and I would like to share a bit about them.
The Vietnamese New Year festival is officially known as 'Têt Nguyen Dan'. Translated, this means 'the first morning of the first day of the new period'. However, most often it is usually called 'Têt'. It is Vietnam's version of the lunar new years and is celebrated by a large percentage of people within the country. Têt is considered one of the most important festivals within Vietnamese culture.
Incense is a common theme at this festival. Quite often incense will be placed upon altars at their deceased loved one’s graves in hopes that they will visit them for the duration of the festival.
Some specific places in Vietnam, such as Quang Phu Cau, shares a larger burden of the incense manufacturing for this events. They whittle down and dry bamboo bark to prepare rather large quantity of incense required for the festival.
When the incense is burned at Têt, it is customary to light 3 incense sticks at a time, which is also the same quantity burned at many Thai funerals.
Pardon for all Wandering Souls
As every culture does, the Vietnamese have their own spiritual beliefs, as well as their own superstitions. One such superstition is the belief of the wandering soul. Many Vietnamese believe that when a human dies, they must be buried in their homeland, else their soul may wander aimlessly for eternity.
On the 15th day of the 7th moon, the Vietnamese have a festival known as the 'Pardon for all Wandering Souls'.
Legend has it that a young Vietnamese boy known as 'Kien Muc Lien' was able to obtain enlightenment at quite an early age. Unfortunately, his mother was not so lucky. According to the story, she was evil, and when she died, she was to spend eternity being tormented by spirits, while experiencing constant pain and hunger. When the son sent her food, the demons burnt it before it could reach her. The son felt quite badly for his mother and had asked the Buddha to help him care for her. He then held a ceremony referred to as 'Vu Lan' (Wandering Soul) and prayed for his mother's forgiveness. His wish was granted, and her soul was pardoned from eternal damnation.
When incense is burned at this festival, it is usually burned in multiples of seven. The incense is often burned near old trees, due to the Vietnamese belief that spirits inhabit old trees.
The Importance of Incense at Vietnamese of Festivals
The Pure Brightness Festival is traditionally a Chinese festival, however, it is practiced in many other countries as well, including China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malasia, Singapore, and Thailand.
It is known by several names, including: Ancestors' Day, Chinese Memorial Day, Ching Ming, Qingming, The Pure Brightness Festival, and Tomb-Sweeping Day.
This festival takes place in the third lunar month of every year.
During this festival, it is customary for to visit your ancestor's graves to clean and decorate them.
Like many other Vietnamese festivals, it is quite common to burn incense at this one as well. It is also one of the common decorations placed around deceased relative’s graves. Flowers are another common theme.
About the Author: Thomas Reed is an incense crafter and aficionado. He is also an avid blogger and operates Reed's Handmade Incense.
(Photo by exnucboy1 via Flickr)