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Vietnam’s worship of mother goddesses pronounced UNESCO heritage

Friday, December 02, 2016, 19:00 GMT+7
Vietnam’s worship of mother goddesses pronounced UNESCO heritage
A ‘len dong’ session in progress. ‘Len dong’, or ‘to mount the medium’, is a key practice in the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam

Vietnam’s traditional religious practice of worshipping mother goddesses has been recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The announcement was made on Thursday during the 11th session of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, taking place from Monday to Friday.

Vietnam submitted the dossier on “Practices related to the Viet beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms” for UNESCO recognition in 2015, but the evaluation process was delayed until this year.

The worship of mother goddesses is a traditional practice in Vietnam that reflects people’s spiritual needs and everyday wishes to achieve good health and success in life.

The Mother Goddesses of the Three Realms represent deities from heaven, water, and mountains and forests, and have been closely associated with historical and mythical figures.

These figures include such as Lieu Hanh (a nymph who descended to earth, lived as a human and became a Buddhist nun), Au Co (an immortal mountain fairy who gave birth to Vietnamese ancestors), and Vuong Mau (the legendary Mother of Saint Giong).

The belief in mother goddesses has been observed in numerous northern mountainous provinces across Vietnam since the 16th century.


One of the key practices of the belief is ‘len dong’ (‘to mount the medium’ or ‘to go into a trance’), a ritual in which practitioners become mediums for various deities who take over their bodies and carry out actions in the human world.

The worship of mother goddesses also reflects a prominent trait of the Vietnamese people – maternal affection, or the respect of children towards their mothers. Vietnam is already home to other UNESCO-recognized world intangible cultural heritages, including ‘Nha nhac Cung dinh’ (royal court music), the Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands, ‘Quan ho’ (love duets), ‘Ca tru’ (ceremonial singing), and Hung Kings worshipping rituals.

hau-dong-nguyen-a-6-1476090645.jpgSouth Korean and Vietnamese scholars join the dance with len dong practitioner Nguyen Duc Hien in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Nguyen A

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