The Wandering Souls Day is one of the largest festivals in Vietnam, next to the Tet holiday. Also known as the Trung Nguyen, the holiday takes plays every 15th day of the 7th lunar month in the Buddhist calendar. The Wandering Soul’s Day is basically the Buddhist version of the All Soul’s Day of the Christian religion.
The Trung Nguyen festival is being celebrated all over the country, from temples, pagodas, local homes, and even government buildings and offices. This festival is not merely a Buddhist holiday, but a significant national holiday celebrated by almost all Vietnamese locals.
According to Vietnamese belief, each person has two souls, the material soul, and spiritual soul. The material soul is known as Via while the spiritual soul is Hon. Once a person dies, his soul will be taken into a tribunal in hell to be judged. After the judgment is rendered, the soul will either go to heaven or hell, depending on how the person behaved while still on Earth.
Locals believe those sinful souls can still be saved from hell by the prayers of the living relatives, which is done during the 1st and 15th of every month. During the Wandering Souls, locals believe that this is the best time for the relatives of the deceased to pray and ask forgiveness on behalf of these sinful souls. It is their belief that the gates of hell will be opened during the sunset and the souls would fly towards it hungrily and unclothed. Some souls would head home to their homes and villages, which is why relatives would cook plenty of food and place on their altars.
Those whose souls don’t have any home to go to or the ones that have been forsaken by the living would be wandering helplessly into the air of black clouds and over rivers, from one tree to another. Basically, these “wandering souls” are the ones who are in need of prayer the most. This is why locals would place additional altars filled with offerings in some public places.
Wandering Souls Celebration
Locals believe that the dead and the living will meet in thought during the Wandering Souls Celebration. Everyone is expected to abide by the tradition. If the weather permits, religious services, and ceremonies will be held in the open air. In some cases, the largest area of the house is often used allowing more space for the souls to wander around.
During the Wandering Souls Ceremony, huge tables will be filled with offerings that often consist of boiled meat, pork, chicken, and crabs, along with fruits. Some other foods that will be included are vermicelli soup, rice cakes, as well as meat rolls in order to feed the souls who are wandering around and are believed to be hungry.
During the celebration, money and clothes made from papers are being burned. Those who are in the business of butchering meat are said to exercise utmost caution during this holiday celebration. It’s because locals believe that this is a time for reincarnation. Thus, butchers have to be careful or they could end up killing some poor person’s soul.
Furthermore, the Vietnamese also believe that it’s bad luck for someone to die far away from home. This is why transport carriers that have encountered fatalities among its passengers would strictly observe the ceremony.
Vu Lan Day in Hoi An
All regions in Vietnam celebrate the Wandering Souls, but some places have their own different version. In Hoi An, the Wandering Souls is known as Vu Lan Day and is based on a legend. The legend was about a young boy named Muc Kien Lien who was among the ten principle disciples of Buddha who attained enlightenment at a very early age.
Her mother is said to have lived a wicked life and when she died, she was asked to pass into the 18 gates of hell as her punishment. Each door gets tougher and tougher and more terrifying for his mom to get through. Eventually, was overwhelmed by extreme hunger and when Muc Kien Lien found out about this, he decided to smuggle some food for her through a magic spell. He was able to successfully do that, however the tormentors of hell turned these foods into flame as soon as his mom eats them.
When Muc Kien Lien went back to the physical world, he asked guidance from Buddha to save his mother. The Buddha asked him to gather monks and devotees and have them pray every 15th day of the 7th lunar month. And this is how the Wandering Soul’s Day in Hoi An started.
Just like with the rest of the locals in the country, people in Hoi An believe that the gates of hell are opened during the Wandering Soul’s Day in order to give those sinful souls a chance to wander around and redeem themselves.