Perfume Pagoda Festival
Nowadays, Hương Sơn Village belongs to Mỹ Đức District, Hà Nội. In order to visit this village, one must, starting from Hà Nội downtown, follow Highway No. 6 to Hà Đông, then Ba La Crossroad (at Km 14), then take Road No.12 up to Bến Đục, then take proceed by rowing boats to the Hương Pagoda.
Thiên Trù Pagoda during the Hương Pagoda Festival 2009 Games are not involved in the Hương Pagoda Festival which mainly consists of pleasant sight seeing trips to pagodas, temples and caves and ceremonies to beseech favors from Lord Buddha.
The Festival officially starts on February 15 (lunar year), but the Pagoda has been lively with a big number of visitors from January 15 to mid-March (lunar calendar). Bến Đục, the quay to the Pagoda, is crowded with boats and people. As a rule, pilgrims and visitors from all parts of the country, whether acquainted to one another or otherwise, greet everyone by saying “A Di Đà Phật.” These words mean, “We beg Lord Buddha to give us health and luck”.
The boats would take the visitors to the Elephant Mountain, the Dragon Mountain, and then to the Trình Temple, dedicated to a former general of a Hùng King. It was a very big temple which still has 2 kneeling elephants at the gate and a quite large ceremony room. After visiting the temple in order to introduce oneself to Lord Buddha, the visitors continue the boat trip in order to see the Glutinous Rice Plate Mountain, the Chicken Mountain and more. Then the boat stops at Bến Trò where the brook seems to expand, as if embracing an earth-cum-limestone mount topped by the Outer Pagoda, also called Thiên Trù Pagoda. This pagoda was destroyed by the war and has just been built. One can see here two stupas: Thiên Thủy Stupa is a mountain which, under the effect of erosion, has thinned out in the form of a stupa; Viên Công Bảo Stupa was built, about 200 years ago, with ancient bricks and contains elaborate sculptures. The Outer Pagoda also has a number of stele and poems inscribed on the mountain cliffs.
Then, the visitors proceed by foot to the Inner Pagoda. On the way, they can drop in and see the Tiên Pagoda which lies adjacent to a mountain cliff, with stalactites from which water drops and produce sounds similar to those of a bell, and 5 statues made of white and transparent stones (if a burning torch is kept behind the back of a statue, one can see the flame from the front part thereof).
Thereafter, the visitors would take the main road, and arrive at the “Clearing Unjust Charges” (Giải Oan) Pagoda where is located a well with limpid waters. In front of the Pagoda is a brook with 9 sources, called the “Clearing Unjust Charges” brook. The legend has it that Buddha stopped here for a while in order to get rid himself of all the dust of the world of human beings. And in washing one’s hands and face in the cool water of the brook, the visitor can feel that he or she is now free from all past “karmas”.
Near to the “Clearing Unjust Charges” Pagoda are the Tuyết Quynh Cave and the Phật Tích Shrine which is known as preserving the “footprint” of Lord Buddha (in fact, this is merely a stone with a mark similar to a footprint).
Not far away is the Cửa Võng Pagoda, and then the Inner Pagoda. The latter is, in fact, a big cave, Hương Tích, which goes deep into the mountain and the level of which is lower than the level at the entrance. One must pass through a big gate at the entrance and then go down big steps in order to enter the cave. The gate looks like the mouth of a dragon and its upper part bears 5 Chinese characters inscribed in stone “Nam Thiên Đệ Nhất Động” (The most beautiful cave in the South) reportedly written by Lord Trịnh Sâm (1767-82).
Inside the cave, are statues of Lord Buddha, of Bodhisatva (the Goddess of Mercy), of Arhats and of others. The statues of Lord Buddha and Bodhisatva are made of green stone, but according to stele found inside they were made of bronze in 1767 (Lê Dynasty). This means that the old statues were lost and replacement in green stone were made in 1793. A big bell, still in existence, was also called cast during this period. The cave also contains many stalactites and stalagmites of various forms which scintillate in the light, and bear such names as: the heap of rice, the heap of coins, the Gold Tree, the Silver Tree, the Basket of Silkworms, the Cocoon, the Girl and the Boy.
Childless persons who visited the Pagoda in order to beg for fertility used to caress the latter two stalagmites, so much so that they have become very smooth and polished.
The legend says that Bodhisatva went South and stayed at Hương Tích Pagoda in order to help save human souls. The legend and the history book of the Hương Pagoda also say that the Hương Tích cave became a well-known place of worship over one thousand years ago. During the reign of King Lê Thánh Tông (1460-97) a Buddhist shrine already existed in the area where, later, was built the Thiên Trù Pagoda, and a monk from the Pagoda came daily into the cave to burn incense sticks.
In addition to Hương Tích Cave, the visitors can also see the Tuyết Sơn Mountain where a Pagoda is also located in a cave and has a statue of Bodhisatva. They can also visit the Hinh Bồng Pagoda located on the top of a mountain, and from there have a full panorama of Hương Sơn area with rivers and brooks criss-crossing the landscape, stone walls following one another like a long rampart, and valleys where grow apricot-trees which blossom in spring time and decorate mountains with their white flowers.
Many visitors go home with an exotic present from the Hương Pagoda: an adornment in the form of a crescent with fringes and bearing the name “Hương Tích;” the old root of the Prune trees, a small bundle of fragrant vegetables (sắng) gathered in the Hương Mountain.