Laba Festival – A Potential Intangible Cultural Heritage

With Laba Festival drawing near, Laba Festival Custom of Lingyin Temple is shortlisted for ‘Hangzhou Intangible Cultural Heritage’.

Laba Festival is a traditional Chinese festival that falls on the eighth day of the Layue (腊月: the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar). The festival held this year, on January 17, is closely associated with Buddhism and is celebrated to commemorate Shakya Muni Buddha’s enlightenment.

Every Laba Festival a ceremonial dish called Laba Congee is consumed which is widely perceived as a way of praying for good fortune in the coming Chinese New Year. The congee uses many kinds of rice, beans, dried fruit, tofu, potato, meat and vegetables and is prepared and distributed to pilgrims by temples in Hangzhou.

The custom of cooking this dish on Laba Festival dates back thousands of years but it was not until the reopening of Lingyin temple in 1978 that the ancient custom of cooking Laba Congee on Laba Festival was revived. In the olden days the congee was prepared only for Buddha and it wasn’t until much later that Laba Congee was distributed to the masses. It is reported that Lingyin Temple distributed 8000 bowls of Laba Congee in 2008, 200000 bowls in 2009, 360000 in 2010, 300000 in 2011, 400000 in 2012 and since 2013 the number of bowls produced has been fixed at 300000.

Please kindly note that Lingyin Temple has cancelled the on-the-spot distribution of Laba Congee in the temple and instead, Laba Congee, will be transported to every district in Hangzhou and then distributed to the residents.

The Laba Festival Custom of Lingyin Temple involves both the preparation and distribution of Laba Congee and other rituals.

Laba Congee Preparation and Praying for Good Fortune for all People

This part is performed by monks in the early hours of the morning where they pick the ingredients carefully and cook the Laba Congee piously. When the first pot of Laba Congee is cooked it is served to the Buddha and is enshrined in each and every hall and in a particular order thus praying for good fortune for all people.

A Thousand Monks Delivering Buddhist Offerings

A scene not to be missed is the one which sees a thousand monks lined along the path from the Heavenly Guardian Hall (天王殿) all the way to the Hall of Mahavira (大雄宝殿) where they pass Buddhist offerings, one by one, until eventually they reach the Hall of Mahavira. The Buddhist offerings are then offered to the Buddha.

In addition to the above, sermons by the Abbot of Lingyin Temple and literature works and folklores related with Laba Festival all form part of this potential intangible culture.