According to the traditional customs of Vietnam, every household celebrates the Skyward Ritual on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year. People follow this ritual as a way of passing down traditions from previous generations, but few know the interesting story of Ong Tao, the Kitchen God. Let’s find out more about the legend of Ong Tao and how he ascends to the heavens!
1The legend of Ong Tao and the story of Two Men and One Woman
Ong Tao, known as Kitchen God in Vietnamese folklore, is believed to originate from the three gods of Earth, Soil, and Kitchen in Chinese folklore. However, in Vietnamese folklore, they are known as the Three Gods of Earth, House, and Kitchen or Ong Tao.
According to folk tales, long ago there was a couple, the wife’s name was Thi Nhi and the husband’s name was Trong Cao, who lived happily together. However, one day, Trong Cao got angry and left Thi Nhi. Thi Nhi wandered to another village and met Pham Lang. They fell in love and got married.
The legend of Ong Tao – the story of Two Men and One Woman
Later on, when Trong Cao calmed down and missed Thi Nhi, he left his hometown to find his wife. Trong Cao traveled from one place to another, but couldn’t find his wife even though he had nothing left. He had to resort to beggary to survive.
One day, on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year, while begging for food, Trong Cao accidentally met Thi Nhi burning paper money in front of her house. Seeing her husband in a pitiful state, Thi Nhi brought out rice to help him. Pham Lang saw this and became suspicious of Thi Nhi. Feeling ashamed, Thi Nhi jumped into the fire and committed suicide. Touched by his wife’s sacrifice, Trong Cao also jumped into the fire and died with her. Pham Lang, out of love for his wife, also jumped into the fire and died.
On the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year, Vietnamese people bid farewell to Ong Tao and send him back to the heavens
Seeing the love story of these three individuals, Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor) was moved and bestowed them the title of Ong Tao, who would assist the Jade Emperor in overseeing the household chores, land, and markets of the mortal world before ascending to the heavens and reporting the world’s affairs to Ngoc Hoang every year on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year.
Since then, Vietnamese people have held a farewell ceremony and send Ong Tao back to the heavens to report the world’s affairs to Ngoc Hoang.
2The significance of worshiping Ong Cong and Ong Tao
Ong Tao is a deity deeply connected to the daily lives of Vietnamese people, serving as the hands and feet of Ngoc Hoang, who blesses every household.
In daily life, Ong Tao keeps a record of people’s good and bad deeds to report to Ngoc Hoang, forming the basis for rewards and punishments.
Therefore, on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year, people often buy a set of paper gods, consisting of two male figures and one female figure, to bid farewell to Ong Tao with a solemn ceremony. They hope that Ong Tao will bring good things, good luck, and remove any misfortunes from the past year.
The significance of worshiping Ong Tao
3Ong Tao is not only worshiped in Vietnam and does not always ride a carp to the heavens
Ong Tao is not only worshiped in Vietnam but also in other countries such as Taiwan, China, and Singapore. All of these countries start their ceremonies to bid farewell to Ong Tao on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year, just like in Vietnam.
Even the means of transportation for Ong Tao varies across different cultures. In Vietnam, there is a folk belief that the golden carp is a legendary fish that lived in Heaven and crossed through the Gate of Thunder, which is why Ong Tao is depicted riding a carp. It is believed that he descended to the mortal world due to committing a mistake, and every year on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year, Ong Tao uses this day to return to Heaven.
However, there are some regions in Vietnam and even in China and Taiwan that believe Ong Tao rides a horse, so they worship Ong Tao with paper horses on this day.
4Why do we have the ceremony to bid farewell to Ong Tao and the ceremony to welcome the Kitchen Gods during Tet?
In the customs of the Vietnamese people, from the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar year until New Year’s Eve, we only have a ceremony to bid farewell to Ong Tao without a welcoming ceremony, and on New Year’s Eve, we have a welcoming ceremony for the Kitchen Gods without a farewell ceremony. Why is that?
Why do we have the ceremony to bid farewell to Ong Tao and the ceremony to welcome the Kitchen Gods during Tet?
According to folk beliefs, there is no specific date for the farewell ceremony to Ong Tao because Ong Tao’s return to the heavens depends on the specific schedule set by Ngoc Hoang. Ong Tao can only return to the mortal world when Ngoc Hoang declares the end of the “Heavenly Court hearing.” The specific schedule is unknown to us mortals. That’s why there is no welcomed ceremony for Ong Tao.
Meanwhile, the welcoming ceremony for the Kitchen Gods on New Year’s Eve is based on the belief that the Kitchen Gods always reside in the house, on the ancestral altar. Therefore, we have to worship the Kitchen Gods at the Nine Compartment/Crevice House altar as a way to welcome them. Welcoming the Kitchen Gods means inviting all the ancestors who are not directly worshipped by the family (such as long-deceased ancestors, grandparents, etc.). This way, we invite them to come and have a meal with the family on New Year’s Eve.
Worshipping Ong Tao is an essential custom of the Vietnamese people at the end of each year, with the hope that Ong Tao will report the best things to Ngoc Hoang and bring blessings to every family.