Between the many buildings in the cities there are some, which always catch the visitors’ eyes: the colourful pagodas with their artistically embellished architecture. The simple clothing of monks and nuns stand in direct contrast to the display of the beautiful temples, and their gardens. While passing these oases of peace, one might wonder about the music in the pagodas. Playfully filled with ornaments, or plain, decent and directly to the point of its purpose?!
Here follow some short excerpts of singing, praying and interviews recorded in different pagodas, at different times of a day…
- Pho Quan Pagoda (evening service)
- Vien Giac Pagoda (Sunday morning Ceremony)
- Tu Hieu Pagoda (evening ceremony)
- Thien Mu Pagoda (ceremony in the afternoon)
- Dinh Thanh Pagoda (interview)
Pho Quan Pagoda (HCMC)
It has to be stated that praying and singing differ from each other. The former is a monotonous litany of texts in Sanskrit, written in phonetic letters in such a way as to enable the community to sing along, while the latter comes closer to songs, which are not only in the Vietnamese language itself, but also show features of public Vietnamese music.
One day I was able to record a regular evening service in Pho Quan Pagoda. Excerpt of a praying community:
Vien Giac Pagoda (Bui Thi Xuan street, HCMC)
Upon asking at the Pho Quan pagoda about representative music from pagodas here in Ho Chi Minh, I was sent to Vien Giac Pagoda. The master, and head of the pagoda, Mr. “Thich Dong Van”, was so kind to sing a complete ceremony for me to record after the regular Sunday morning ceremony for the community.
After he had sung through the entire ceremony he had just performed for me, he explained more about the “mid-day-ceremony”. It can be held between 11 am and 1 pm, on the 15th and the last before the last day of a month of the moon calendar.
Tu Hieu (Hue)
A little bit outside of Hue, on the way to one of the famous tombs, the street passes one of the most beautiful pagodas in Vietnam: Pagoda Tu Hieu.
In the evening the monks closed the doors to the temple for one monk to pray…
Thien Mu (Hue)
End of November our group left Ho Chi Minh City to travel further north, heading towards the middle of Vietnam. After a short stop in Hoi An, our next stop was Hue, the city of many of Vietnam’s emperors, and probably more Buddhist monastries than anywhere else in the country.
Hue is not only famous for its Sông Hương (Perfume River), but as well for the Imperial City containing the forbidden city (housing the emperor, his family and his concubines, and of course people who were close to them), several tombs of former emperors in the surrounding of the city, and of course the largest pagoda in Hue “Thiên Mụ Pagoda”, which is also the official symbol of the city.
Seated on the top of a hill Thiên Mụ Pagoda looks down on the Parfume River and the city. It is here that the car of Vietnams most famous monk reminds humanity to strive for tolerance and peace. In 1963, it was Thich Quang Duc who drove to Saigon and set himself on fire in a street in Saigon to protest against the anti-Buddhist policies of the South Vietnamese government.
During our stay I was so fortunate to not only take pictures, but also listen and record fragments of a ceremony inside the pagoda.
Ceremony in the evening
Two demons guarding the gates
Gongs inside the main house of the pagoda
An Interview in Dinh Thanh Pagoda (HCMC)
The way the life goes…
In the literally last few days of our extended stay I finally found a monk who had specialized in music. Arranging a meeting showed to be complicated within my remaining time in Vietnam, his busy schedule, and my almost desperate attempts to find a translator. Nevertheless, this opportunity proved to be one of a kind. A beautiful present sent in the last moment; it was an amazing hour filled with beautiful singing of songs from within pagodas and information about those.
(article in progress – more to follow.)