The Phu Giay Festival is one of Vietnam’s biggest national festivals. The event celebrates and pays tribute to Lieu Hanh, the Goddess or “Holy Mother” of Vietnam. She is one of four immortal gods, and the sole god based on a real 16th century princess who died young.
Locals believe that their entire community is a family all of whom have the same ancestors. General Tran Hung Dao is the ancestral father and Lieu Hanh is the legendary mother. The center of their homeland is considered to be Phiu Gay thus the festival’s name.
Held at Vu Ban District’s Nam Dinh Province, the festival showcases the country’s custom of worshiping the Holy Mother. It also aims to preserve and promote Vietnam’s unique cultural and spiritual values.
The Phu Giay Temple is situated 55 miles from Hanoi’s east. Devotees flock to the festival during the conventional lull at work that occurs during the third month of the lunar calendar. Specifically, the festival takes place on the first to the tenth day of the third lunar month. The festival’s main event is on the third day. The sixth day is where a procession is organized and the “Mother” is escorted by people from the temple of Tien Huong to the Goi Pagoda.
Visitors who flock to the event are attracted by the Festival’s combination of sacred rites and one-of-a-kind cultural activities. For one, the Palanquin Procession Ceremony is dubbed as the highlight of the Phu Giay fest. Occurring on the seventh day of the festival, the procession sees people stand in positions that allow them to form the shape of a Chinese character.
The procession starts with a group of aged women clasping Buddhist pennons. They are then followed by monks as well as men and women bearing weapons. Seven palanquins follow the monks. The first palanquin is carried by eight red-costumed girls. The second is carried by green-costumed wearing girls, while the third is carried by white-costumed girls. The group who bears the Holy Mother’s belongings atop their heads are to go after the palanquins. On the seventh day, a unique game sees participants form a Chinese character.
Those who join the game will need to stand in specific ranks to form characters that say, “Mau nghi thien ha”. This is translated to, ‘A woman whose virtue makes her the mother of the nation’. Another set of Chinese characters formed will show, “Thien ha thai binh”, which means ‘Peaceful World’. The game begins the instance the flag commander gives the signal to start.
Other activities seen at the event include cockfighting and folk singing or “keo chu”. A cultural and religious activity is also held and is referred to as hat van as well as hau bong. These activities combine music, dancing, singing, and worshipping as conventionally seen in the country’s Holy Mother tradition. Other games and entertainment activities which similarly occur are classical opera or tuong, popular opera or cheo, singing performance or xam, as well as tug of war, wresting and chess.