Worshipping the Gods of Kitchen – A beautiful feature of Vietnamese culture
19:09 | 03/02/2013
VGP – Vietnamese people worship the Gods of Kitchen, called táo quân or vua bếp in Vietnamese, because they believe that these are household tutelary gods who make annual reports on all affairs of each and every family to the Emperor of Heaven.

Gods of Kitchen in a folk painting
Legend and meanings

In Viet Nam, there is a moving legend of the Gods of Kitchen: Long long ago, there was a couple who lived in marital disharmony because they could not have a child despite of their long conjugal life. One day, being beaten by her husband, the wife left her home and later got married with another man. After his wife’s leave, the first husband went bankrupt and became a beggar. Some day, he arrived the house of his ex-wife. Recognizing her ex-husband, the wife entertained him with a big meal. Suddenly, her second husband went home. The wife had no choice but told the first husband to settle in the slack of straw in the garden. While waiting for the dinner, the second husband burnt the slack of straw to have fertilizer for the crop. To atone for his old faults and protect his ex-wife from puzzledom, the first husband contented himself with being burnt to death. When the wife discovered the incident, she could only see the first husband dying with a smile on his face. Understanding the love of her ex-husband and feeling guilty about accidentally killing him, the wife jumped into the fire to die with him. Witnessing the whole scene, the second husband understood the situation. To show his love to the wife and regret about the couple’s death, he also jumped into the fire. The Emperor of Heaven was so moved with the love triangle that deifying them as three gods of kitchen.

The legend in fact explains many social and technical issues, such as traces of the matriarchy (two husbands and one wife), the use of ashes as fertilizer, belief in the Supreme Being (King of Heaven), and the structure of a cooking tripod (stove).

Worshipping rites

Tao quan are respected because they are the gods of the kitchen where food is prepared for people. Moreover, they also monitor and make reports on each and every household’s daily activities, both good and bad, to the Emperor of Heaven. So, they are thought to be able to decide a family’s fortunes.

In Viet Nam, on the 23rd day of every 12th lunar month, which falls on 3 February 2013, every family opens the “Festival of the Gods of Kitchen” (Tết ông Công) to see off the three gods going up the Heaven. Among votive offerings, the northerners (from Nghe An Province northwards) usually present an alive carp, a kind of fish which is thought to be able to become dragons and fly through nine layers of the sky to the Heaven. After the rituals, the carp is released into ponds, lakes or rivers. Sometimes, it is kept and raised in water-well or tank to take care of  the family’s success and prosperity. At present, many families use paper carps.

Dwellers from the southern part of Central Viet Nam southwards use a wood-block printing of “flying stock and galloping horse” instead of carps. They also prepare as much sweet food as possible because they think that such offerings will encourage the Gods to say ‘sweet’ words to the Emperor of Heaven.

By Xuan Hong

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