“When we drink water, we remember its sources.
|Ceremonial: A long-standing tradition is maintained, with soldiers in traditional attire accompanying the palanquin. (Photo: VNS)|
“When we eat a sweet fruit, we are grateful to those who plant it.”
Gratitude to ancestors is an axiom of Vietnamese life and culture, and the event that gives greatest expression to this gratitude is the Hung Kings Memorial Day, which falls on the 10th of the third lunar month (which falls on April 6 this year on the Gregorian calendar).
The nation as a whole pays tributes to its legendary founders on this day.
After lighting incense at the Celestial Temple on top of Nghĩa Lĩnh Mountain to pay tributes to the nation’s founders, Le Hong Van, chairman of Viet Tri City’s People’s Committee, cited the above-mentioned homilies on gratitude.
“These are the reminders that are handed down from generation to generation,” he said.
At 6.30am sharp, many people were standing in line for the nonstop, uphill walk to the top of the Nghia Linh Mountain, where the 6th King Hung Huy Vuong of the Vietnamese legend was buried.
Vietnamese people from all parts of the country had made their way to Viet Tri City to pay their tributes to their ancestors.
“We come here from Binh Duong Province,” Dang Thi Giau told Vietnamnews. “There’s one temple dedicated to the Hung Kings at the Dai Nam Complex near where we live."
“But this is the original site where our ancestors were buried so we want to come here,” she said as she prepared to light incense and pray at the Celestial Temple.
In the last six years, Giàu has been here five times with a group of six friends in their 70s and 80s.
But it is not just the elderly who take the 500 or so steps to the temple atop the mountain. Many young people, students, and people of all ages and walks of life come here to connect with their roots.
It is estimated that over the last two days, a staggering two million people have visited Hung King’s Temple, truly the country’s biggest pilgrimage site every year.
Leading an entourage of more than 100 civil servants in Viet Tri and a royal carriage on the shoulders of a dozen strong men to the mountain top, Le Hong Van, chairman of Viet Tri People’s Committee, lit incense in the inner altar, open to a very limited number of people.
“Today we stand at the Celestial Temple at the top of the sacred Nghia Linh Mountain with enormous gratitude toward our ancestors: the Hung Kings, our nation’s founding fathers,” he said.
“We share a common heritage,” he continued, “and all of us commemorate the Hung Kings Memorial Day every year. It is our tradition, our common background, our great unity.”
Legends and artifacts
Vietnamese people tend to disagree with each others on many things, but there is no difference of opinion on one important thing that the Hung Kings are our ancestors.
The blend of history and legend has it that the first ruler of what is Việt Nam today was Kinh Duong Vuong, a great-grandson of the Agriculture God, who looks over all farming work in Heaven. He then married the Dragon Queen and give birth to Lac Long Quan, or Dragon King.
Lac Long Quan met his future wife Au Co, or the Phoenix Queen in a cave during one of his travels around his kingdom. He took her to settle down at the Nghia Linh Mountain. The couple gave birth to one hundred men.
One day Lac Long Quan told his wife, “My dear, I belong to the Dragon family, while you to the Fairy family. So we cannot live together for long.”
So when their sons become adults, Lac Long Quan sent 50 sons to go with their Mother Au Co to live in the mountains. He took 49 other sons and headed out to sea.
They left their eldest son Hung Quoc Vuong to rule the country known as Van Lang.
Hung Quoc Vuong lived in the Van Lang Citadel, now Viet Tri City. The Hung dynastry lasted for 18 generations.
|Dragon steps: The palanquin team from Chu Hoa Commune at the foot of the Nghia Linh Mountain is accompanied by a dragon dance team. (Photo: VNS)|
In his book, The Hung Kings Temple — Historic Memorial, writer Vu Kim Bien lists all the 19 Hung Kings and the duration of their reigns.
But legend has also been infused into the list. It is said the first Hung King ruled for 221 years and lived up to 260 years, and that the second Hung King ruled for 300 years and lived up to 646 years.
While these are obviously legends orally handed down from ancient times, some of the “legendary” stuff has been supported by artifacts unearthed by archaeologists.
The last Hung King did not have a son to continue his lineage, so he gave the throne to a nephew. Thuc Phan An Dương Vuong defeated the last of the Hung Kings in 257BC.
Later, Thuc Phan lost his kingdom to the neighbouring Qin dynasty’s general Zhao Tuo, who used his son to seduce, marry and gradually steal weaponry secrets from the daughter of Thuc Phan An Duong Vuong. This story, known to every Vietnamese, is purportedly a legend, but several details of the story are backed by real-life artifacts.
The earthen spiral citadel, or Co Loa, 16km northeast from central Hanoi, was the location of the Au Lac Kingdom, with Thuc Phan as King An Duong Vuong.
The giant turtle’s claw, used as trigger on the magical crossbow that can fire thousands of bronze arrows at a time, is the stuff of legends. Many bronze arrows can be seen today at the National Museum of History in Hanoi.
Archaeologists have also found bronze drums at the Co Loa Citadel site. Produced in 600BC or even earlier, the drums are one of the finest examples of metal works creted by the Dong Son Culture. Weighed up to 100 kilos each, the drums are intricately decorated with geometric patterns, scenes of daily life, wartime, birds and other animals, and boats. The drums were objects of trade and family heirlooms.
The Vietnamese people have always valued the dedication and sacrifice of previous generations and see the anniversaries of their death as an opportunity to pay tributes. This custom is observed by every family, with children sharing the cost of the family feast or making the best offerings they can at the ancestors’ altar.
The same tradition applies when it comes to worshipping the national founding fathers.
This year four localities, including Hanoi, Thai Binh, Binh Phuoc and Ben Tre Province, offered to co-host the ceremonies and series of accompanying activities during the Hung Kings Memorial Day.
“I am the master of ceremonies and I have been entrusted to chair the ceremony commemorating the Hung Kings,” said Luong Phu Thuan, 80.
“Vietnamese, wherever life takes you to,” he said, “remember to turn your heart and soul toward the Hung Kings Temple. The Kings will bless you.”
Ceremonial: A long-standing tradition is maintained, with soldiers in traditional attire accompanying the palanquin. (Photo: VNS)
Food story: It is said that Prince Lang Lieu, the youngest and poorest son of the 18th Hung King, invented the square and round sticky rice cakes to gift his parents. This is a tradition maintained by the Vietnamese people ever since. (Photo: VNS)
|Orderly departure: Locals carry traditional flags, a large palanquin with offerings to walk up nearly 500 steps to the Upper Temple. (Photo: VNS)|
|On the way up: People of Viet Tri City on their way to honour Hung Kings. (Photo: VNS)|