Vietnam pagoda chief denies making fortune off festival

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Pilgrims stuff money into the mouth of a statue at Huong Pagoda in Hanoi / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

The head monk at Huong (perfume) Pagoda in Hanoi has denied allegations that the famous pagoda took in more than VND22 billion (US$1 million) worth of donations made by pilgrims during a festival last year.

Thich Minh Hien was speaking at a press conference early this week, when asked about media reports that the pagoda, which hosts a spring festival that attracts over one million visitors each year, accumulated 1,200 sacks of small notes left by pilgrims as prayers for good luck. 

He said the money belonged to local people in the district, not the pagoda only.

He also denied that he personally profited from festival donations, stressing that the donations would be spent on repairing the pagoda's works.

However, Hien did not reveal how much the pagoda took in during the annual festival.

The information about the deposit was revealed by Dao Minh Tu, vice governor of the central bank, on the sidelines of a meeting on December 25.

Tu said the deposit was reported by Agribank branch in My Duc District, where Huong Pagoda is located.

If combining all amounts received by other banks in localities where there are common religious sites, the total amount would be extremely large, Tu said.

The bank official was criticizing many Vietnamese people's practice of scattering small notes at religious sites during festivals to pray for good luck

He said such practice was wasteful.

It cost some VND300 billion ($14.2 million) to print notes with values lower than VND2,000, but the notes are rarely used for payment in recent years, and mainly for religious and festive activities, according to Tu.

The State Bank of Vietnam will print small notes in limited amounts this year to replace torn and damaged notes, and will recycle notes that were used once to avoid wastes, the official said. 

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