Tu Dao Hanh was a Buddhist monk in the Ly Dynasty. He had outstanding merits regarding the popularization of the religion, the treatment of diseases for people and the creation of many games original to Vietnam, including water puppetry. The Thay Pagoda Festival is held on the seventh day of the third lunar month in remembrance of his merits.
Several days prior to the festival, Buddhist followers and pilgrims far and near flock to the pagoda, further adding to the boisterous atmosphere of the festival. The Pagoda is cleaned and incenses, candles lit, bringing about a charming scene.
The statue bathing ritual takes place before the opening of the festival. Buddhist monks and the people participate in the ritual. Pieces of red cloth are used to clean the statues. Those standing around solemnly hold their hands in front of their chests, whispering Buddhist sutras. When the ritual ends, the used water, the holy water the Buddha bestows, will be scattered all over the pagoda in a wish for bumper crops and prosperous life. The cloths are also torn into smaller pieces to divide among the people as they are thought to have the power of warding off the evils. The rite of cleaning objects of worship comes after this statue bathing ritual.
The procession of Tu Dao Hanh’s worshiping tablet takes place on the 7th day of the third lunar month, with the participation of four villages Thuy Khue, Da Phuc, Sai Khe and Khanh Tan. Covering under a yellow cloth, the colour of the outfits worn by those having supernatural powers, the tablet is carried by four representatives from the four villages mentioned above. Each village carries its own tutelary god’s tablet. Noteworthy is that in the procession the tablet and white horse of Da Phuc must go ahead those of the Thuy Khue. Normally the procession comes to the pagoda at twilight.
At the pagoda the ritual of presenting offerings to Buddha is held in a solemn manner to the accompaniment of musical instruments. The offerings in various kinds and different colors are out into the altar, looking impressive in the smoke of incenses and candles. Wearing fine outfits, holding sticks to which are decorated with flowers, Buddhist monks chant Buddhist sutras while dancing to display the journey of mankind in striving for noble things.
Among fascinating games in Thay Pagoda Festival, water puppetry stands out. It is performed at the Thuy Dinh House in Long Tri pond in front of the pagoda. Tu Dao Hanh is said to be the founder of this artistic performance.
Going to Thay Pagoda Festival pilgrims have an opportunity to revere the relics imbued with the imprints of outstanding monks and men of the past.