Ông Táo về Trời (Farewell of the Kitchen Gods) In Preparation For Tết Celebration (Lunar New Year) 2013
Vietnamese people worship the Gods of Kitchen, called táo quân or vua bếp in Vietnamese, because they believe that these are household tutelary gods who make annual reports on all affairs of each and every family to the Emperor of Heaven.
Offerings at the altar.
Gods of Kitchen in a folk painting
Legend and meanings
In Viet Nam, there is a moving legend of the Gods of Kitchen: Long long ago, there was a couple who lived in marital disharmony because they could not have a child despite of their long conjugal life.
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One day, being beaten by her husband, the wife left her home and later got married with another man. After his wife’s leave, the first husband went bankrupt and became a beggar. Some day, he arrived the house of his ex-wife. Recognizing her ex-husband, the wife entertained him with a big meal. Suddenly, her second husband went home. The wife had no choice but told the first husband to settle in the slack of straw in the garden.
While waiting for the dinner, the second husband burnt the slack of straw to have fertilizer for the crop. To atone for his old faults and protect his ex-wife from puzzledom, the first husband contented himself with being burnt to death. When the wife discovered the incident, she could only see the first husband dying with a smile on his face. Understanding the love of her ex-husband and feeling guilty about accidentally killing him, the wife jumped into the fire to die with him. Witnessing the whole scene, the second husband understood the situation. To show his love to the wife and regret about the couple’s death, he also jumped into the fire.
The Emperor of Heaven was so moved with the love triangle that deifying them as three gods of kitchen.
The legend in fact explains many social and technical issues, such as traces of the matriarchy (two husbands and one wife), the use of ashes as fertilizer, belief in the Supreme Being (King of Heaven), and the structure of a cooking tripod (stove).
Táo Quân are respected because they are the gods of the kitchen where food is prepared for people. Moreover, they also monitor and make reports on each and every household’s daily activities, both good and bad, to the Emperor of Heaven. So, they are thought to be able to decide a family’s fortunes.
In Viet Nam, on the 23rd day of every 12th lunar month, which falls on 3 February 2013, every family opens the “Festival of the Gods of Kitchen” (Tết ông Công) to see off the three gods going up the Heaven. Ông Công and Ông Táo are the most familiar and popular genies. On the 23rd day of last month of the lunar year, offerings are made to these genies.
The belief is that the genies go to Heaven and brief Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor) on the life of the owner of the house where they stay, and pray for luck, prosperity and happiness for all members of the household.
On New Year’s Eve, they will return to earth and resume their caretaking duties in the kitchen of the house.
On this day, subsequently called Ong Cong and Ong Tao festival day, Vietnamese people usually prepare a basin of water in which they put one big live carp or three small ones. After the ceremony, the carp are released into a pond or a river.
Release of Carps
This custom has two meanings. First, the carp can swim well and it will pass the Heaven’s gate to become a dragon. Thus, Ong Cong and Ong Tao can ride a carp (a dragon) to heaven.
Second, the custom relates to the release of animals including birds into the air, fish into the water and other creatures into the forest as a merit-acquiring deed as well as one that brings good luck.
Some festival activities are being held across the country: