How Vietnamese People Honor Their Ancestors
Hung temple is honored as the birthplace of the Vietnamese people. Hone to an annual festival and many legendary relics, it holds a special place in Vietnam’s heart
According to legend, the Vietnamese people came into being when a dragon, Lac Long Quan, married a fairy, Au Co, who then gave birth to 100 children. Lac Long Quan took 50 children to the sea and Au Co took 49 children to the mountains, leaving her first born son to act as emperor, with the name Hung Vuong.
To honor their ancestry, many Vietnamese make a pilgrimage to Hung temple, a series of temples and pagodas worshipping the Hung kings and their royal families. The temple runs from the foot to the top of the 175 – metre high Nghia Linh Mountain in Vietnam’s northeastern Phu Tho Province, on strictly protected forest land 10km from the centre of Viet Tri City.
The Hung Temple is comprised of three main areas: the Lower temple, the Middle Temple and the Upper Temple. Through the Temple’s Gate from the first step, it is 225 stone steps up to the Lower Temple and Thien Quang Thien Pagoda.
Here, incense is burnt and offered with reverence. Before continuing their ascent to the top of the mountain, standing at the foot of the stairs, travelers are able to enjoy the cool, green landscape around Nghia Linh Mountain.
The next leg of the journey is 168 steps up to the Middle Temple. According to legend, the first King Hung set up a stop – over house here to rest and have talks with his officials. Prince Lang Lieu offered square sticky rice cakes and glutinous rice dumplings to his father during the Tet (Lunar New Year) Festival, which later became the traditional cakes of the nation.
By the time travelers reach the Middle Temple, most are tired but few want to stop, perhaps feeling the spiritual and sacred sentiment of the land and their roots. Their journey continues another 102 steps up the Upper temple.
On the top of the mountain, visitors can behold the immense expanse of the land. It was here the Hung Kings often conducted rituals of the rice saint, and bumper crops. Outside the Temple Gate reads an inscription: “The Ancestors of Vietnam”
This is the place the Sixth King Hung set up his temple to worship Saint Thanh Giong who had conquered the Northern invaders known as An, this is also the place the 18th King Hung bequeathed the throne to Thuc Phan, who then planted 2 stone pillars, vowing to take care of the Temple and defend the legacy of the Hung Kings.
To the east of the upper Temple there is an earthen grave. As the legend has it, it was the grave of the Sixth Emperor Hung. After Saint Giong defeated the An invaders, he flew to heaven and the Emperor was turned into stone here. The later emperors built the rave and set up a royal tomb in his honors.
After having climbed up to the Upper Temple, travelers continue to take another road to the last stop, Gieng (Well) Temple, at the foot of the mountain. Gieng Temple is said to be a miraculous place for those who want to pray for their loved ones. The temple is so called because there is a well where princesses Tien Dung and Ngoc Hoa had often come to use as a mirror.
The source of the sacred water originated from inside Nghia Linh Mountain. At the mountain’s foot, there is a lotus pond and the Hung Vuong Museum, where all the objects from the Stone Age to the Iron Age are displayed.
A saying goes:
“Whoever goes up the hill and down the dale
Remember the 10th of Lunar March, the ancestor’s anniversary”
The Hung Temple Festival is also called the Hung Vuong Ancestors’’ there three levels: the feudal state, the local villages and communes and each one organized an anniversary.
The feudal state organized the rituals on the 12 of lunar march, the anniversary of the first hung King. Held every five years, it was called the main festival. By Lunar January, Saint’s flags already bedecked on the top of the mountain to inform the people far and near to know of the upcoming event.
The local people would come to start the ritual. About 40 villages would parade palanquins from their own villages’ communal houses and the mountain. There were also performances of Xoan singing. The night for Xoan singing lasted from twilight to early morning in the different voices and different voices and different dances. Nowadays, there are two main rituals during the festival: the palanquin parade festival and the incense- offering ritual.
The present day’s festival is livelier, with games, performances, food and goods for sale. It’s a time for the local folk to come dressed in their best outfits, beaming smiles on their faces.
As Ho Chi minh wrote: “The Hung Kings had rendered great services in founding the nation; so you and I must together defend the country.” The Hung Temple Festival honoring the Hung Vuong ancestors is a time for Vietnamese at home and abroad to remember and express their gratitude to the founders of the nation.
This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel
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