On a cool morning a couple of days before Valentine’s Day, small groups of young Vietnamese women giggle, chat and whisper as they enter Hanoi’s Ha Pagoda (Chua Ha) in the hopes of finding a lover, or perhaps even a husband. While most temples in the country are visited in the hope of bringing luck, health and happiness, this particular pagoda sees people seeking luck in their love lives.
Lying on a tranquil street in Cau Giay District, the pagoda feels isolated from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Amid the wafting scent of burning incense there are a dozen or so stalls here selling the usual curios found outside temples: fresh fruit, mini buddhas, lucky charms, as well as a colorful riot of flowers such as chrysanthemums and, oddly, roses, thousands upon thousands of roses
“I consider love as something we cannot control, that we should not put any pressure on love, it comes when it comes.”
Usually chrysanthemums are the first choice to offer to the Buddha in Vietnam as they are seen as pure and noble and a way of sending respects to the deceased, but it is the roses that are flying out the door at the Ha Pagoda, due to their symbolism of love, romance and even the erotic.
Dressed in yellow silk, Thu is a twenty-something from Thanh Hoa Province. Pale-faced and wearing striking red-lipstick she is shy and blushes slightly as she tells Chào why she is visiting the temple. “Actually this is my first time going here. I came across this famous pagoda on Facebook and I have read that this temple can bring me good luck in my love life, so today I decided to give it a try.”
Chi is a 28 year-old accountant working in Hanoi and she is at the temple with a male friend though he is not her “boyfriend.” She was initially reluctant to believe in the powers of the temple but has, partially at least, changed her mind. “I never thought one day I would need spiritual assistance in my love life. For pagodas, we should only pray for peace, luck and health, not love,” she says. “So, I consider love as something we cannot control, that we should not put any pressure on love, it comes when it comes.”
“However, a lot of my friends recommended that I go here, to pray for luck in my love life. They gave me extremely convincing evidence from their own experience and I started to believe, and admit that I have a need for this. This is my first time going here. I hope that after today things will get better.”
Though it was built in the 11th century, no one is quite sure how the Ha Pagoda gained its mythic status as a love temple. Some people went there and reported their bonds with their lovers growing much more strongly, others have said that shortly after visiting the temple they fell in love at first sight. Whatever the story, its allure is powerful. And word of mouth has ensured more and more people visit every year, with Valentine’s Day something of a romantic peak. Many people are absolutely convinced that a visit to this temple will quickly lead to a long and happy marriage.
When you find your loved one, you must take out this bag and eat the salt together with your partner.
Nguyen Dinh Duong is a garrulous flower-seller who has a stall outside the temple. With tattoos of dice on his arms and a roguish grin, he sees himself as something of an unofficial tour guide for the love temple and can often be seen ferrying people about the temple and showing them where to go and what to do. “First time visitors usually get confused about the structure of the Ha pagoda!” he says excitedly “There are three main sections that you need to be aware of while worshipping here: Ban Tam Bao and Ban Duc Ong which lie in the front of the construction, last but not least, Ban Mau is in the back and is the place where we make our love wishes.”
There are a series of rituals and offering to be made at the temple to ensure you gain and luck and maybe even find a mate. The offering trays for the various shrines vary. For Ban Tam Bao it should incense and candles. Ban Duc Ong’s tray will ensure good fortune and should consist of gold coins (chocolate ones will suffice) as well as tea, medicine, salty food and wine bottles (these must be opened). Ban Mau bring loves and her tray should contain flowers, betel nuts, candy and small change.
After giving offerings, you need to have memorized a love mantra/prayer the day before. Repeat this at the love shrine and your romantic wishes are said to come true. But you must take home a small red bag of salt from the temple. When you find your loved one, you must take out this bag and eat the salt together with your partner. Adding this sacred salt into your relationship adds depth and mutual feelings for each other. Do not forget to return to the temple to thank the gods for bringing you love.
There will be those that think visiting a temple to find love is mere superstition and mumbo-jumbo to be ignored, but Dinh Duong is having none of it. “No way,” he says. “I have helped many young men and women successfully do the ritual and find their dream partners; they even came back and thanked me!”
86 Chua Ha Street, Dich Vong, Cau Giay
7.30 a.m.- 5 p.m.