In northern Vietnam, worshipping places fill with misbehaving pilgrims

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The first month of the new lunar year is often a time for Vietnamese to visit places of worship in order to wish for fortune and prosperity, though this year seems to be marred by reports of pilgrims unable to behave at various holy sites.

The week-long Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday ended on Thursday, though festivities typically continue in the next two or three weeks with traditional festivals and rites open to worshippers and visitors across the country, especially northern localities.

On Thursday, six days into the new lunar year, a three-month festival kicked off at the famed Huong Pagoda in Hanoi’s outer district of My Duc, with ugly behaviors from tourists and pilgrims.

Though the opening ceremony was scheduled for 9:00 am, thousands of visitors began a boat journey through a stream as early as 3:00 am to reach the pagoda.

The festival organizers said there were fewer visitors during the opening day than during the first days of Tet, but misconduct amongst the worshippers was rampant.

In northern Vietnam, worshipping places fill with misbehaving pilgrims

“On the fourth and fifth day of Tet, we received 69,000 and 50,000 visitors, but there will be fewer tourists today,” Nguyen Van Hau, deputy chairman of My Duc and head of the festival organizing board, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Hau said a number of visitors climbed over the pagoda’s walls, many destroying the temple’s landscaping, in order to be the first to reach the pagoda, though it remains a mystery if doing so will bring them more fortune than the latecomers.

Many pilgrims chose to ignore requests by the pagoda monks and police officers to refrain from climbing the wall and destroying flowers and vegetables on the temple grounds.

“Our officers could only ask people not to cross the wall. They had no way of enacting any penalty,” one Hanoi police officer told Tuoi Tre. “We could not stop them and our requests were continuously ignored.

In northern Vietnam, worshipping places fill with misbehaving pilgrims

Pilgrims, young and old, smudge Buddha statues at Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh Province, located in northern Vietnam.

Elsewhere, in the northern province of Ninh Binh, tourists and worshippers flocked to the Bai Dinh Pagoda, a Buddhist temple, to attend a months-long festival that also began on Thursday.

The Bai Dinh festival, one of the largest of its kind in northern Vietnam, runs from the sixth day of the first lunar month to the end of the third month.

While some pilgrims respectfully paid homage and made offerings to the Buddha, praying for a new year full of luck and peace, many others were spotted misbehaving

Both young children and the elders hurriedly rubbed their hands over stone statues of the Buddha and a turtle located across the pagoda, believing that the act would bring them fortune.

However, the misbehaviors only dirtied and smudged hundreds of statues at the pagoda.

In northern Vietnam, worshipping places fill with misbehaving pilgrims
This turtle statue has been ‘blackened’ after being rubbed by pilgrims.

In northern Vietnam, worshipping places fill with misbehaving pilgrims

Other visitors rushed to put banknotes of small denominations into the hands of the Buddha, in yet another misconception that he would pay them back with luck and prosperity for these ‘bribes’.

As observed by a Tuoi Tre reporter, a man, not wearing uniform or badge to prove he is a member of the organizing board, came to each statue and collected the money.

When asked, he simply said he was “collecting good luck from the Buddha,” and left to continue his ‘job’.