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The Hung Temple Festival

The Hung Temple is located on Mount Nghia Linh, in the territory of Co Tich village, Hy Cuong commune, Phong Chau district, Vinh Phu province

The old annals say that after settling down in Phong Chau as the Capital of the country (1st millennium BC), the Hung Kings chose Mt Nghia Linh for performing religious ceremonies in honour of the Sky, the Earth and other genies. Mt Nghia Linh (also called Hy Cuong, Nghia Cuong, Hung Linh, Nui Hung) has a height of 175 metres, is covered with luxuriant vegetation and is surrounded by a series of mountains. According to a legend, there were 99 hills symbolising 99 kneeling elephants deferentially turned toward the Mother Mountain (Nghia Linh). But one of the hills has a big crack; the legend explains that a recalcitrant elephant refused to bow to the Mother Mountain and was, therefore, beheaded.

In order to visit the Hung Pagoda, one should, starting from Hanoi, go along Highway No2 to Co Loa, to Dong Anh, to the Viet Tri Industrial Area (92 kilometres north of the capital), then proceed for two more kilometres and tread a red earth road for 3 more kilometres. Then one should see the pine trees and the three-door and two-storey temple gate, covered by a curved roof the edge of which bears two dragons turning their heads toward the Sun. The big, tall gate is flanked on both sides by walls and two columns bearing two lamp posts and young lions.

From the gate, the visitor must climb a flight of stairs consisting of 225 stone-steps in order to reach the Ha Temple (the lower temple). According to the legend, it was here that Lady Au Co gave birth to 100 eggs from which 100 children came into being, of whom 50 subsequently followed their father, Lac Long Quan, to the sea; while 49 others followed their mother to the highlands, leaving behind the 50th son to rule over the country as the first Hung King.

The Ha Temple area also has a Buddhist pagoda, the Thien Quang Pagoda which has a big bell tower and is famous for a 700-year-old tree in its yard. It was here that President Ho Chi Minh had a talk with officers and men of the 308th Division in August 1954 concerning their tasks in taking over Hanoi, the capital. Among other things, the President said to them:

"To their credit, the Hung Kings founded our State

And it is now our duty is to defend it".

Leaving the Ha Temple, one visits a house containing stone slabs, and then going down the foot of the mountain to the south-east, after crossing a few score of stone stairs, one arrives at the Well Temple, where Princesses Tien Dung and Ngoc Hoa, daughters of the 18th Hung King are worshipped. A legend says that prior to their marriage, the princesses used to comb their hair here with the waters in the well serving as a mirror.

Climbing up, from the Ha Temple, some 168 stone stairs, one reaches the Trung Temple, (the Middle Temple) where, according to legends, the Hung Kings used to confer with the Court officials on State affairs. One hundred stone stairs bring the visitor to the Thuong Temple (the High Temple) where the Hung Kings performed ceremonies in honour of the Sky, the Earth, the Mountain Genie, the Paddy Genie. The temple carries a big horizontal board inscribed with four Chinese characters 'Nam Quoc Son Ha' (Southern State). In front of it is a stone column planted on a high rostrum and darkened by the smoke of incense sticks. It is called the 'Swearing-in Stone.' That was the place where King An Duong Vuong (who ascended to the throne in the 2nd century BC) swore to perform regular ceremonies in remembrance of the Hung King and defend the heritage left by the Hung family. The tomb of a Hung Kings, the ancestral tomb, stands at a lower place near the Thuong Temple. It was a piece of simple architecture rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century.

Thus, the Hung King complex of historical monuments comprises four temples, one pagoda, one tomb, most of which have been rebuilt or renovated less than a hundred years ago. Yet, excavations and surveys have detected in Mt Nghia Linh many relics pertaining to the architecture prevailing in the Ly and Tran dynasties, such as old-style bricks and tiles, terracotta small stupas, stone columns, etc. Even the Swearing-in Stone column was initially intended for use in the building of temples and pagodas. It contains holes for fitting bars and beams.

As some local old folk still remember, the Trung Temple was built at the earliest date by the Treo village (which later became Trieu Phu village on account of the family name of many of its inhabitants) to worship the Hung Kings. Thanks to population growth, the Treo village subsequently broke into three villages - Trieu Phu, Co Tich and Vi Cuong. The latter two also built temples on the mountain to worship the Hung Kings. Thus the Thuong Temple was built by Co Tich village, and the Ha Temple by Vi Cuong village, while Trieu Phu village, as the root unit, continued to be in charge of the Trung temple as had been the case previously. These three temples also worship the Mountain Genie but their respective tablets carry different names: Mt Ca, Mt Van and Mt Troc. 'The Thuong temple also has in its altar a big paddy husker made of stone (which was later replaced by a wooden one). The inhabitant's also take care in preserving a big piece of stone having a diameter of over 2 metres on the top of Mt Troc, which is called the 'rice hulling mill.' These two relies and other pieces of stones arranged on both side of the rostrum of the altar in the Ha Temple give us an idea of the primitive worship rites of the people during the reign of the Hung Kings. 'The name of some places and villages around these temples bring to our minds certain facts of old history: Tham Thinh village was the place where paddy was decorticated and supplied to the King; Ke Su was the place where the King worked; Ke Trau was formerly a garden growing betel leaves for the King; Ke Doi was the training ground of the royal troops; Ke Gat was the seat of a Palace where the King chose his son-in-law etc.

Over recent years, efforts have been made to preserve and rehabilitate the Hung temples with the making of new roads, stone steps and guest houses, and the digging of Lake Lac Long Quan.

The Hung Temples Festival opens every year on March 10 (lunar year). In ancient days, an envoy of the Vietnamese King officiated as the master of the ceremony. The festival involved many games such as the unicorn dance, tug-of-war and swinging. In particular, Co Tich village is credited with famous offerings: rice pies, steamed white glutinous rice, steamed red coloured glutinous rice, steamed violet-coloured glutinous rice (which symbolise the different varieties of paddy planted during the reign of the Hung Kings when the Vietnamese State was still at a initial stage).

At present, the Hung Temples Festival is regarded as a nationwide one, with a representative of the Ministry of Culture and of the People's Committee of Vinh Phu (currently Phu Tho) province taking part in the incense presenting ceremony. Another item is the 'bronze drum beating' ceremony held in the Thuong Temple. The games include circular swings and vertical swings, wrestling, a sword dance and a 'Xoan' folk song (folk song of Vinh Phu province) contest on the banks of Lake Lac Long Quan and musical performances.

New games and cultural items are being added to the programme of the Hung Temples festival in order to remind the present and future generations of the origins of our nation and the feats of our founding fathers, sources of strength which we should draw on in our present nation-building endeavours.

Nhandan - (05/11/2003)

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