Ong Cong, Ong Tao – Vietnam’s Day of the Kitchen Gods
‘Tao Quan’, ‘Ong Cong’ and ‘Ong Tao’, in Vietnamese belief, originated from the 3 Gods of the land (Tho Cong, Tho Dia and Tho Ky). from Taoism in China. When coming to Vietnam, the legend became the story of “2 Husbands and 1 wife” – the God of Land, God of House and God of Kitchen. However, people still call them “Tao Quan” or “Ong Tao”, because of a TRILOGY theory which is very popular in Eastern Belief and religion. The kitchen of a house where there is fire and both are based on earth or soil for building of the house.
In Vietnam, the story of Ong Cong, Ong Tao has been told through the generations, and then later it was written down so there are many different variations. But the main story for Vietnam is as follows:
Mr. Trong Cao had been married to Mrs Thi Nhan for a long time but they didn’t have any children. Then used to get upset and quarrels were often seen in their family.
In one of their arguments, Trong Cao, got really angry and beat his wife, Thi Nhan who left the home and later married another man named Pham Lang.
When Trong Cao realised he was wrong, he went out to look for his wife. He then spent all his money looking but couldn’t find her. Trong Cao became a beggar because he had spent all of his money.
One day, Trong Cao arrived at Thi Nhan’s house to beg, and they recognized each other. Thi Nhan felt sorry and regretted she had remarried to Pham Lang. Suddenly, Pham Lang came home and Thi Nhan found it hard to explain the situation., Thi Nhan asked Trong Cao to hide in the haystack out in the garden.
Back home, Pham Lang went in to the garden and burned the haystack to make fertilizer without noticing that Trong Cao was hiding there. Trong Cao didn’t dare to come out and was burned to death. Thi Nhan realised that Trong Cao was burning alive and jumped into the fire to die with him.
Pham Lang didn’t know what had happened, but he saw his wife had died and he followed her into the fire.
Their souls went to heaven and met the Jade Emperor. Jade Emperor understood their situation. Then entitled them to be known as, “Tao Quan”, which meant, ‘taking care of 3 different matters in the lives of people’s homes.’
- Pham Lang: was titled “Tho Cong”, taking care of Kitchens workings
- Trong Cao: was titled “Tho Dia”, Taking care of house workings
- Thi Nhan: was titled “Tho Ky”, taking care of food supply and shopping.
Vietnamese people consider the 3 Gods watch and evaluate the good and bad things people have done, and they decide the prosperity of a family. Therefore, an altar to worship them is a must.
An altar for them is set near kitchen. Every year, on 23rd day of 12th month in Lunar Year calendar (in 2011, it is the January 26 on the western calendar); these Gods go for a meeting in heaven and report what people had done in the past year. Vietnamese people celebrate on this day. In the ceremony, the offering include a carp ship which is their transport, and 3 sets of traditional official paper dress hats, long dresses and shoes but no pants. This is because in the fire, their pants were burnt off.
Many Vietnamese families will buy 3 live fish, 1 female and 2 male, and release them into a river or pond and also burn paper clothes and money on the day.