Bamboo pole erecting tradition in Hue Citadel to celebrate Tet

Erecting bamboo pole was a beautiful tradition and a symbol of Tet under the Nguyen Dynasty, to ward off the devil and bring good luck to a New Year.
February 09, 2021 | 16:54

The Hue Monuments Conservation Center last Thursday organized the ‘cay neu’ (bamboo pole) erection ceremony for Tet (Lunar New Year) at The To Temple in Hue Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO heritage site in the central town of Hue.

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(Photo: VnExpress)
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Photo: VnExpress

The To Temple is a sacred place built by the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), Minh Mang (reigning 1820-1839), to commemorate emperors.

The ceremony is held to celebrate the Lunar New Year and pray for another spring of good luck and good crops and ward off evil spirits.

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Photo: VnExpress
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The center has prepared an altar with offerings like pork, chicken, sticky rice, and five fruits. (Photo: VnExpress)

The reenactment of a procession of soldiers led by an official departing from Hien Nhon Gate for Trieu To Temple, Thai Hoa Palace and then Hien Lam Pavilion in The To Temple, VnExpress reported.

Ten soldiers carry the 15-meter Tet pole - followed by a group of flag holding soldiers with royal court music artists performing along the way - past the Ngu Phung (Five Phoenixes) Pavilion.

During Minh Mang’s reign, an imperial seal would be hung on top of the pole to indicate administrative activities were suspended for Tet.

All participants are in traditional attire but wear masks since the end of the country's fight against Covid-19 is still nowhere in sight. Vo Le Nhat, director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center, kneels at the offering table along with colleagues with incense sticks to worship ancestors.

On the days before Tet, Vietnamese families plant a “Cay Neu”, which is an extremely tall bamboo tree in front of their homes. The bamboo pole stripped of its leaves except for a tuft on top so that it can be wrapped or ornamented with good luck red paper. According to famous legends in the Vietnamese culture, the red color scares off evil spirits and the tree is supposed to ward off the evil spririts during absence of Tao Quan (the Kitchen Gods) who leave the family at this time to visit the palace of the Jade Emperor. “Cay Neu” are decorations similar to Christmas tree that is displayed in various cultures. Bows, arrows, bells and gongs are hung on the treetop with the hope that all the bad luck of the past year will be chased away and everyone will have a happy New Year.

Legends have it that long long ago, humans and devils co-inhabited the earth. The devils overwhelmed the former and invaded their land. Buddha told the devils: “I will hang my cassock on top of the bamboo, and wherever the shadow falls is Buddha’s land, and you devils must give it to men.” The devils agreed. So after planting the bamboo, Buddha flung his robe to the top and made the bamboo higher by means of magic; as a result, the cassock overshadowed the whole land and the devils were chased to the East Sea. Then the devils prayed to Buddha for permission to return to the mainland for a three day visit to their ancestors’ tombs on the occasion of Tet. For this reason, Neu is often planted on this occasion with green leaves, an eight sign amulet and earthen bells hung from its top. Lime powder is scattered round its base to allow the painting of cross-bows and arrows to chase away the devils or keep them at bay. The shadow of Neu symbolizes the land acquired by the men in the legend. The sounds of small bells and gongs on Neu remind us of man’s right to own the land and the bows and arrows tell us that they were once the weapons used to fight off the devil.

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Soldiers pull up the pole at Hien Lam Pavilion in The To Temple. During the Nguyen Dynasty era, people were only allowed to start celebrating Tet after the bamboo pole went up. (Photo: VnExpress)
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The bamboo pole stands here until the seventh day of the first lunar month and the seal is then unblocked to start the year. (Photo: VnExpress)
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