Huong Pagoda (Perfume Pagoda) – A must-see destination in the spring when in Hanoi
Dubbed “the first ranking Northern grotto”, The Huong Pagoda is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains. It is the site of a religious festival which draws large numbers of pilgrims from across Vietnam.
The complex’s center is right inside Huong Tich cavern (or in other words, Inside Pagoda). Huge numbers of pilgrims flock to the site during Perfume Pagoda festival, which begins in the middle of the first lunar month and lasts until the middle of the third one (or from February till March) in order to pray for happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Also, it is a very popular opportunity for young couples to meet and for numerous budding romances to be formed. On this special occasion, a wide range of traditional cultural activities is incorporated. Perfume pagoda is not only a religious site, but a great sight-seeing spot in Vietnam as well.
It is said that the first temple was a small structure on the current site of Thien Tru which existed during the reign of King Le Thanh Tong in the 15th century. Legend claims that the site was discovered over 2000 years ago by a monk meditating in the area, who named the site after a Tibetan mountain where Buddha practiced asceticism. A stele at the current temple dates the building of a terrace, stone steps and Kim Dung shrine to 1686, during the reign of King Le Hy Tong, at around the same time that Chua Trong was being constructed. Over the years some of the structures were damaged and replaced. The original statues of Buddha and Avalokitasvara were cast from bronze in 1767 and replaced with the current statues in 1793. More recently, damage was done during both the French and the American wars. Both the gate and the bell tower at Thien Tru Pagoda were destroyed, and the bell tower rebuilt in 1986 and the gate completed in 1994.
According to the legend, a pilgrimage to Huong Pagoda in the spring will bring health, prosperity, good luck and happiness. And whether you believe in the story or not, there's no disputing that a trip like this offers a perfect chance to get closer to both nature and Vietnamese tradition.
Coming to Huong Pagoda, what should not be left home is a good camera, since you will regret unless you catch all the snapshots of this fascinating natural wonder.
Den Trinh (Trinh Temple)
Approaching from the Day River, one will first come across Den Trinh (Presentation shrine), also known as Den Quan Lon (Shrine of High-ranking Mandarin), built to worship one of the generals of a Hung King. This large shrine has a gate with two kneeling elephant statues on each side. Inside the structure is a large ceremonial room.
Ben Duc (Pier Duc)
The very first starting point of the pilgrimage is Ben Duc (Pier Duc). Normally, it takes more than 2 hours to go from Hanoi to Ben Duc. During the annual festival months, Ben Duc is packed with thousands of row boats used for shuttling visitors. For many visitors, this one-hour boat ride on the Yen Vi Stream from Pier Duc is actually the highlight of the trip, and inspiration sources of quite a few famous poets.
Thien Tru Pagoda
Beyond Den Trinh is Thien Tru (Heaven Kitchen) Pagoda, also known as Chua Ngoai (Outer Pagoda). Here one will find Vien Cong Bao Stupa, a brick structure where Ch’an Master Vien Quang, who led the reconstruction of the pagoda, is buried. Thien Thuy stupa, a naturally occurring structure that is the result of the erosion of a rocky hill, is also nearby. Thien Tru is also home to a bell tower and Hall of the Triple Gem, last restored in the 1980s. Inside the Pagoda there is a large statue of Avalokitasvara.
Huong Tich Grotto
Huong Tich pagoda is inside the great natural grotto which looks like the open mouth of a dragon and the stalactites and stalagmites inside lead many to believe that they are in a miniature pavilion. After more than one hour along the stream and visiting the initial ancient pagodas from the riverbank, now pilgrims would climb up hundreds of stone steps, and then down 120 stone steps to Huong Tich Grotto, literally meaning "traces of fragrance". The path to Huong Tich winds its way through magnificently luxuriant landscapes.
Moreover, Huong Pagoda Festival is among the greatest Buddhist festival in northern part of Vietnam. Huong Pagoda Festival plays an important role in the spiritual life of Vietnamese people in general and Vietnamese Buddhists in particular. Huong Pagoda Festival is a Buddhist festival held annually and lasts three months, from the 6th day of Lunar New Year to the 6th day of the third lunar month in the year. But, the official days of the festival is only from 15th to 20th day of the second lunar month.
As other festivals in Vietnam, Huong Pagoda Festival is also divided into two parts: The ceremonies and the entertaining activities. Ceremonial rituals consist of incense offering procession and Zen ceremony in which Monks and Buddhists offer incense, flowers, candles and fruits. During the ceremony, there are two monks performing beautiful and flexible dances. On the other hand, entertaining activities include enjoying boat cruise along Yen Stream for watching picturesque scenery, climbing mountain and exploring holy caves. It is believed that climbing up the top of Huong Tich Mountain will bring you fulfillment and great success in life.
Every year, the site welcomes more than one million pilgrims and tourists from across the country who arrive at the sacred cave to pray for a happy and prosperous year, or simply to admire its picturesque beauty. If you have a chance to visit Vietnam, don’t miss this stunning destination.
Written by: Hieu La