In the month of the ghost, pets ‘come back to life’

By Vu Van    August 29, 2018 | 08:50 pm PT
In a Hanoi pagoda, people visit their dead pets with incense and trays of food favored by their erstwhile companions.

Do Uyen placed a fruit plate on an altar and lit an incense stick.

“Are you sad? Rest here and play with your friends,” she whispered.

The Hanoi resident is one of thousands of residents who have chosen the Te Dong Vat Nga pagoda as the final resting place for their pets. As of now, the pagoda is home to around 5,000 deceased pets.

Uyen is also among the pet owners who visit the pagoda on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to pray for their dead pets.

In the month of the ghost, pets come back to life

People visit the pagoda to pray for their dead pets. Photo by Vu Van 

The Te Dong Vat Nga pagoda was founded by Nguyen Bao Sinh, a poet residing in Hanoi. He had thought of a pet graveyard for a long time, but the idea only manifested into reality in 2000.

The seventh lunar month (August in solar calendar), also called the “month of the ghost” in Vietnam, is when people remember and pay tribute to those who have passed. Now, this extends to the pets they loved.

Sinh attributes the establishment of the pagoda to an early love and compassion for animals. “When I was young, I would bury even a dead butterfly,” he said.

The pagoda is meant to meet a spiritual need, he said.

“In the past, when we are too poor, no one buried a dead dog... But as our country develops, people have greater religious needs. Te Dong Vat Nga, according to Buddhist philosophy, means that people and animals are equal.”

Sinh said the month of the ghosts was the most crowded time of the year for the pagoda, attracting around 1,000 visitors.

This year, the praying ceremony is being held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m to accommodate more people than usual. The pagoda prepares various offerings including corn, sweet potatoes, yams, and cereals. Most people bring the favorite food of their pets.  

Ha Anh, 30, has two cats buried in this pagoda. She has brought some sausages, flowers and snacks. These are the foods her cats liked. With the incense aroma permeating the quiet ambience, the quiet ambience filled with incense aroma, Anh played the song “River flows in you” on her speaker.

"On rainy days, I used to sit by the window holding the cats in my lap, talking to them, listening to music together.... That feeling is still intact, as if it was just yesterday," she said.

Each of the 5,000 plus pets who are interred here has a carefully constructed grave with an an incense bowl, a gravestone with inscriptions of the years of birth and death, and pictures of the pet.

There are two crematoriums in the pagoda where about 10 employees provide the final rite for cats and dogs.

In the month of the ghost, pets come back to life - 1

Snacks and biscuits are popular offerings for cats and dogs. 

Le Quang Huan, 56, a resident of the capital city’s Dong Da District, lost his pet last February. He visits the dog’s grave on the first and the 15th day of every lunar month. "Today, I have brought some fruit and candies that he liked the most," he said.

Van, 43, a resident or Thanh Xuan District, became emotional as she mentioned her three pets. "I have three ‘friends’ here. One dog died in March 2018.

“I was passing by this area once and heard about the pagoda, so I have them here. Today, when I see their pictures, I am moved,” she said, eyes welling up with tears.

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