Worshipping ancestors - A fine tradition of Vietnam
An ancestral altar of Vietnamese people (Photo: VNA)
Worshipping ancestors, an
ancient Vietnamese tradition, is a ritual practice paying tribute to deceased
family members and reminding people of their roots.
Worshipping ancestors reflects the influence of
patriarchy and Confucianism on Vietnamese culture. Since Confucianism was
introduced to Vietnam during the Chinese domination, filial piety, the most fundamental of Confucian values, has been
very much appreciated in Vietnamese families.
Accordingly, children are obliged to
respect their parents in life and to remember them after they die. The practice
of ancestor worship is thus an expression of “filial piety” toward deceased
parents, relatives and ancestors.
People even had to worship five generations of
ancestors in accordance with the Hong Duc legal code, which was adopted by the
Le Dynasty during the 15th century.
Most Vietnamese families today have an ancestral altar
placed in a prominent place of the house. It is set with ancestral tablets and
pictures, together with an incense burner bowl in the centre as a symbol of the
stars. Inside the bowl usually stands a circular incense stick that represents
the universe. Two candles are placed on the sides of the altar to embody the
sun (left) and the moon (right).
On special occasions like ancestors’ death anniversaries
or the Lunar New Year, special rites are performed to communicate with the
dead. The rites consist of making offerings of fruits, foods and wine; lighting
the candles; and burning incense before praying in front of the altar.
Tet, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival
of the year for Vietnamese people and a time for family reunions. It is an
opportunity for descendants to invite the souls of their ancestors to join the
family’s Tet celebration.
On these days, every home has a tray filled with five
types of fruits placed on the ancestral altar. The fruits may include a bunch
of bananas, pomelo, persimmon, pear and tangerine in different colours to
represent the desire for “phu” (prosperity), “quy” (notability), “tho”
(longevity), “khang” (health) and “ninh” (peace).
The altar may also be decorated with a branch of peach
blossoms in warm pink to drive away evil spirits and bad luck.
The ancestral altar occupies a prominent place in
every Vietnamese home, no matter whether the family is rich or poor. It is a
manifestation of the country’s culture that shows its respect for both the past
and the future.-VNA