Wandering Souls Day is celebrated during the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Equivalent to the All Souls’ Day celebrated in Christian cultures, this festival however is observed by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
What do locals believe about Wandering Souls’ Day?
According to the country’s traditionally held belief, a human being possesses two souls. The spiritual soul is called Hon and the material soul is referred to as Via. The Vietnamese’s believe that during death, the soul is lead to hell and so must face a ten-judge tribunal. A judgment is then rendered based on how a person lived on earth. The soul could either be punished by being sent to hell or rewarded by being sent to heaven.
Souls who are heavy in sin have the opportunity to be absolved of their transgressions via prayers uttered by the living during the first and fifteenth day of each month. But it is on Wandering Souls’ Day where priests and family members of those who died can request for the sins of their loved ones to be forgiven. On the day of the festival, hell’s gates are believed to be open to allow imprisoned souls freedom to wander around while unclothed and hungry. Hungry souls go back to their villages and homes to feed on a slew of food prepared by their families placed on altars.
Souls who no longer have families or any loved ones are perennially doomed to wander over rivers, trees, and on black clouds. These souls need earnest prayers and foods. This is the reason why numerous offerings can be found on public places and pagodas as these are meant for lost souls.
What happens during Wandering Souls’ Day?
Locals believe the festival is where the living and the dead meet in thought. Events held on this day are usually in the open air, if weather permits. The large rooms inside houses are also used as a space where wandering souls can rest.
Tables covered with a slew of offerings can be seen on festival day. Boiled chicken, crabs, roast pork, and five different kinds of fruits are provided. Sticky rice cakes, meat rolls, vermicelli soup, boiled cassava, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes are similarly served.
Paper-made clothes, money and votive papers are burned due to the belief that these can be used by the dead in the spirit world. Butcher shops also observe this festival cautiously. The locals’ belief in reincarnation compels butchers to halt their operation on that day due to the fear of killing a soul who reincarnated in the body of an animal.
The festival is observed in any and every place in Vietnam be it businesses, homes, government offices, factories, or Armed Forces units. Regardless of anyone’s religion, the event is practiced by anyone and everyone who believe in God.
Wandering Souls’ Day is also a time where locals ask for forgiveness for the sins of their dead parents as well as show their parents some gratitude. Locals send lights afloat on the river with the intent that these will help guide souls to heaven.
According to locals, the best place to celebrate Wandering Souls Day is in Hue due to the many Buddhist shrines and pagodas in the area. Monks, who are more than ready to perform ceremonies and offer prayers, are also present in Hue.