Hanoi exhibit explores worship of Mother Goddesses

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The worship of Mother Goddesses practiced by several communities in the country is being showcased at an exhibition in a public museum in Hanoi for the first time.

Titled "Worshiping Mother Goddesses: Heart Beauty Joy", the exhibition opened January 5 at the Vietnam Women's Museum on Ly Thuong Kiet Street. It features altars, offerings, costumes, jewelry, and other paraphernalia involved in the worshipping rituals.

For those who pray, the Mother Goddesses represents Heaven, Earth, Water, Mountains and Forests. They also represent motherhood, fertility, creation, and the bounty of the Earth.

All ethnic groups around Vietnam, including the Kinh (majority community) practice this worship, each with their own goddess, who could be a heroine, princess, queen, or someone who sacrificed her life for public good.

The Vietnam Women's Union began researching the ritual for this exhibition two years ago with support from the US-based Ford Foundation and the Center for Research, Support, and Development of Culture.

Researchers met with hundreds of worshipers, mainly in Hanoi and northern provinces of Lao Cai, Thanh Hoa, Nam Dinh, Hung Yen, and Bac Ninh.

They did face some hurdles. The organizers said just as it happened for a similar exhibition held at L'Espace in Hanoi early in 2011, it took time to convince the local government to grant permission to organize the event.

"That (it is difficult to convince the government) is understandable since in the past, the worship was seen as superstition," said Prof. Ngo Duc Thinh, an anthropologist and expert in the worship of Mother Goddesses.

But he indicated things could be changing; "[It] is being officially acknowledged in modern society."

He said several Vietnamese anthropologists planned to organize an international workshop on the practice and establish Vietnam's first private museum dedicated to the worship of Mother Goddesses.

There have been suggestions that the ritual be put up for UNESCO recognition as a world intangible cultural heritage, he added.

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