Laba Porridge

Updated: 2008-01-18 15:22
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(QUOTE) Brendan

I’m here today outside Yonghegong, Beijing’s Lama Temple. It’s minus 8 degrees and hundreds of people are waiting in line to get their porridge for free on the Laba Festival. Come with me and let’s take a look to see what it is about.

(VOICE OVER) A Beijinger waiting in line for the porridge

Coming here, I feel really warm inside. It’s not cold at all. I come here every year, and there are always crowds.

(QUOTE) An English expat enjoying the porridge

“It’s about sharing. It is about good things, about…not too much, I don’t know too much about this.”


According to Mr. Li Lixiang, Director of Research Center of Yonghegong Lama Temple, the porridge is related to Buddhism and Sakyamuni.

(VOICE OVER) Li Lixiang, Director, Research Center of Yonghegong Lama Temple.

On the way into the high mountains in his quest for understanding and enlightenment, Sakyamuni passed into unconsciousness after days of walking and hunger. By a river in India, a shepherdess found him and fed him her lunch -- porridge made with beans and rice. Sakyamuni was thus able to continue his journey and finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, becoming Buddha. Ever since, monks and lamas have prepared rice porridge on the eve and held a ceremony the following day, during which they chant sutras and offer porridge to Buddha.


The preparation job begins days before the Laba porridge is served.

(VOICE OVER) Ma Zhide, Housekeeper of Yonghegong Lama Temple.

There are 28 kinds of ingredients for this porridge, including rice, red beans, dried lotus seeds, dates, and etc., and the procurement starts a week before the Laba festival. We have to pick out all the rice and peas. The first big pot of porridge is cooked at midnight of the seventh in the 12th lunar month and it’s for Buddha.

Last year, we prepared 30 big pots of porridge, and I think we are going to cook more this year. A lot of people are waiting out there.


30 big pots of rich porridge. A lot of money. Who is paying the bill?

(VOICE OVER) Ma Zhide, Housekeeper of Yonghegong Lama Temple.

A lot of lay Buddhists, including a number of celebrities from all walks of life, donate to this project. The temple also pays the rest of it to commemorate this Buddhist tradition.

(VOICE OVER) Li Lixiang, Director, Research Center of Yonghegong Lama Temple.

In the Qing Dynasty, Yonghegong was a royal temple. “This is a duplicate of a memorial to the throne back about the production of the Laba porridge in the Qing Dynasty. You can see that the Emperors at the time attached a lot of importance to Laba porridge and all the ingredients were transported directly from the Forbidden City.

They used to cook the porridge here. There were several iron pillars to hold a huge pot. Now the pillars were still buried beneath the earth here. The bronze pot itself is near the drum tower for exhibition nowadays.

(VOICE OVER) Li Binsheng, a Noted Expert in Chinese Folk Customs

However, legends about the origin of this festivity abound, and it goes beyond Buddhist belief.

People come here to pray for blessings. It’s not only about having porridge. This practice actually fills a kind of spiritual need.


In Chinese culture, La means the last month of the year and Ba means eight. With the festival celebrated, Laba refers to the traditional start of celebrations for the Chinese Spring Festival.

(QUOTE) Menghewulijia, a Lama at Yonghegong Lama Temple

I wish 2008 will be a year of world peace and people will be happy. Hope your family will be harmonious, and all will go well in the New Year.


Because of the Laba porridge, people gather together in cold winters while feeling warm inside. The character ‘Yong’ in Chinese means magnificent and “He” means harmony. Porridge drinking in Yonghegong embodies the harmonious culture.

This is Brendan John Worrell for China Daily.