Nha Trang Whale Festival: A Unique Celebration Linked to the Worship of the Whale God

July 15, 2020 6 mins to read

The Nha Trang Whale Festival holds deep cultural significance, bringing coastal residents a unique spiritual value. It is an event worth exploring for all travelers, especially during their visit to Nha Trang.

Mentioning Nha Trang tourism brings to mind beautiful seascapes and numerous fascinating festivals. The Whale Festival is one of these distinctive celebrations in Nha Trang, bearing the characteristics of coastal fishermen that captivate visitors’ attention from far and wide.

1. Introduction to the Nha Trang Whale Festival

1.1. Understanding the Whale Worship Ritual of Coastal Residents

The whale worship ritual, or “Ca Ong” worship, is a traditional folk belief of coastal fishing villages in Vietnam’s Central and Southern regions. This practice originates from the worship of Ca Ong, who is associated with the Cham people’s deity Po Riyak (the God of the Sea). Most coastal areas have the tradition of worshiping Ca Ong, or Lord of the Southern Sea, with a belief in salvation and overcoming the challenges of the sea. This age-old tradition of coastal residents has withstood the test of time, preserving its original significance.

Lễ hội Cá Voi được tổ chức hàng năm nhằm tôn vinh ý nghĩa thiêng liêng của cá voi

Whale Festival is held every year to honor the sacred meaning of whales (Photo collection)

1.2. Origin & Significance of the Nha Trang Whale Festival

The whale, a gentle and rare species, holds a sacred significance in the subconscious of every resident along the Nha Trang coast. Legend has it that King Nguyen Anh was once rescued by a whale when his boat encountered misfortune during a sea voyage. In gratitude, upon ascending the throne, he bestowed the title “Nam Hai Toc Ngoc Lan Thuong Dang Than” (The Sacred Whale of the Southern Sea) upon the whale. Subsequent Nguyen dynasty rulers continued to highly regard this marine creature, honoring it with the title “Dai Cang Quoc Gia Nam Hai” (The Great Minister of the Southern Sea).

Lễ hội Cá Voi là lễ hội Nha Trang nổi tiếng được nhiều người biết đến

Whale Festival is a well-known Nha Trang festival (Photo collection)

Over time, the whale has evolved into a benevolent deity with special spiritual significance for coastal fishermen. From this cultural connection, the Whale Festival is considered one of the most critical and distinctive festivals in Nha Trang. The festival, celebrated annually, is grand and solemn, with the heartfelt wish for the Sea God’s protection, praying for favorable weather, calm seas, and a bountiful harvest as fishermen venture out peacefully into the ocean.

1.3. Time & Location of the Whale Festival in Nha Trang

The festival is ceremoniously held on Ca Ong lỵ (the day of the whale’s death), with two significant ceremonies in spring and autumn at the Ca Ong Tomb in Nha Trang City. Every year, during this time, locals and tourists alike enthusiastically flock to participate in the unique festival of Nha Trang’s coastal region.

2. Whale Festival Nha Trang: What Makes It Special?

2.1. Ceremony Section of the Whale Festival

The festival commences with the ritual of Nghinh Than, where a robust group is chosen to escort the statue of Ong Nam Hai to the sea on a dragon boat early in the morning to welcome the spirit of the Whale God amidst the ocean.

Khi du lịch Nha Trang, du khách rất thích thú khi được tham gia lễ hội Cá Voi

When traveling to Nha Trang, tourists are very excited to join the Whale Festival (Photo collection)

Following this is the Ordination ceremony, consisting of two processions marching towards the Ong Tomb from the North and South. A vibrant dragon dance troupe leads each procession to clear the way and dispel evil spirits. After completing the prayer ritual, reporting the previous year’s results, and seeking peace, the procession escorts Ong back to the sea. Hundreds of decorated boats are prepared for this elaborate ceremony.

The Whale Festival also includes various other rituals such as the Tinh Sanh ceremony, Te Chanh, Thu ceremony, Ton Vuong, although not always present, and finally, the Tong Na ceremony.

2.2. Festival Section of the Whale Festival Nha Trang

The festival section is lively and vibrant, with numerous exciting traditional folk games typical of the coastal region: boat racing, swimming, basket shaking, and more. Additionally, cultural activities are remarkable, featuring tuồng singing, communal singing, and more.

Lễ hội Cá Voi được tổ chức để cầu mong mưa thuận gió hòa, quốc thái dân an

Whale Festival is held to pray for favorable rain and wind, Thai Thai An (Photos collected)

In the realm of the arts, apart from Tuồng singing and vibrant chanting, there is another distinctive form of performance during the Whale Festival, namely the “Bả Trạo” singing and dancing (where “Bả” means holding firmly, and “Trạo” means boat oar. Holding the boat oar firmly amidst the open sea is always the aspiration of coastal residents). This activity embodies the solidarity among fishermen on a boat that has braved storms, bringing a bountiful harvest to the fishermen. “Bả Trạo” serves as a dance performance, depicting the activities and labor of fishermen such as rowing, pulling nets, or portraying the scene of transporting souls on a boat to the afterlife.

Lễ hội Cá Voi qua hàng trăm năm vẫn giữ nguyên giá trị tinh thần to lớn

Whale festival, for hundreds of years, retains its great spiritual value (Photo collection)

Through many ups and downs and changes in history, the Whale Festival still retains excellent spiritual value in the spiritual life of the people of Nha Trang city.

3. Other Spectacular Traditional Festivals of the People in Nha Trang

Nha Trang tourism is renowned for its various traditional festivals that captivate tourists.

  • The Ponagar Tower Festival in Nha Trang is the largest religious festival, recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage. This festival is considered a sacred symbol, depicting the unity and beauty of the nation.
  • The Yen Sao Festival holds special significance, honoring the distinctive tradition of swiftlet nest harvesting. It showcases the cultural beauty of the people in Nha Trang, expressing hopes for a warm, prosperous life through the art of swiftlet farming.
  • The Cau Ngu Festival is a unique folk belief of the coastal residents in Nha Trang, taking place in a vibrant, spiritual atmosphere to express gratitude to the Sea Deity for a bountiful fishing season and a life of abundance.
  • The Am Chua Khanh Hoa Festival is an ancient tradition where locals convey their beliefs for a year of favorable weather, safe offshore fishing, and abundant harvest.
  • The Hung Temple Festival in Nha Trang attracts considerable attention from tourists interested in the cultural tradition of “remembering one’s roots.”
  • The Yacht Festival, an internationally acclaimed event, enthralls both local and international tourists, promoting the tourism potential of Nha Trang.
  • The Flower Fruit Mountain Festival on Monkey Island, Nha Trang, is eagerly anticipated by many tourists for its festive atmosphere and positive contributions to environmental protection. It underscores the importance of preserving the island’s marine ecosystem and creating the best living conditions for various species.

The Whale Festival preserves the significant spiritual values of the people’s spiritual life in Nha Trang and contributes to promoting tourism development in this beautiful coastal bay. If you happen to travel to Nha Trang at the right time, immerse yourself in this lively festival!

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