All religious and relic sites in Vietnam must limit the number of donation boxes they use to only three, according to a decision by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism issued on June 18.
According to the decision, which is part of a government effort to retain solemnity at sacred sites as well as prevent money from being thrown around indiscriminately, only three boxes or plates for monetary donation are allowed to be placed at main altar areas.
One donation box only, however, is supposed to be placed at a proper designated position at each site.
According to recent statistics, during the first month of this year, the Hung King Temple in the northern province of Phu Tho, the Thien Hau Pagoda in the southern province of Binh Duong attracted two and one million people respectively .
Other relic sites around the country were also visited by thousands of people.
"The more people come, the more chaotic box placement is," said Prof Ngo Duc Thinh, former dean of the Institute of Cultural Studies.
"That people place more and more boxes for donation purposes at improper position ruins the relic's solemnity," Thinh said.
"Pilgrims will find it more comfortable and convenient once the number of donation boxes is decreased. They will no longer have to bother about which boxes they should put money in," said Dr Minh Ngoc of the Institute of Religion Studies.
However, according to ministry spokesman Phan Dinh Tan, the decision might face protest from those who benefit from such donations in these relic sites. Prior to the release of the decision, the management boards were asked to attend training to raise their awareness regarding the issue and the new regulation, Tan said.
Whether the regulation is followed or not is another challenge to local authorities due to the small number of staff members and inspectors in comparison with the countless number of relic and religious sites nationwide.
In addition, according to Prof Tong Trung Tin, commissioner of the National Council of Heritage, the fine for violations of the rule is too light, from VND 300,000 to one million (US$14-48). It is a mere trifle compared tot he amount of donations these places receive, especially on festival days, he said.
Following the decision, the ministry is expected to release regulations regarding the management as well as the use of such donations, said Tin.
"At least, thanks to the decision, the management boards will feel ashamed when their relic site has more than three donation boxes. I believe that although it is very difficult, the number of such boxes will be decreased, because the ministry is very zealous to retain the spiritual atmosphere of these sites," said Tan.
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