Vietnamese dragon signifies material, spiritual wealth

Amongst the 12 animals represented on the Chinese calendar, namely the rat, ox, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, it is only the dragon that is not real but an imaginary and mythical creature, which nonetheless for the Vietnamese signifies material and spiritual wealth.
A 19th century pottery decorated with a dragon relief work

According to folk lore, the dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix are the oft-mentioned four mythical creatures in tales and legends, with only the tortoise actually existing in the real world today.

Zoologists believe that the tortoise being of small built could have survived for this reason while the other creatures of monster size may have gone extinct for lack of food as their habitat shrunk.

They believe that dragons, unicorns and phoenix really existed millions of years ago as fossils of similar looking creatures have been found, such as the Chinese water dragon, in Indonesia.

Rural people still have superstitious believes such as heavy rains and strong winds are brought about when a dragon flies over their land, or earthquakes and tsunami occur when the dragon awakens from a thousand year sleep!

Legend has it that when Trang Quynh went to China as the King’s envoy, he attended a painting competition. He dipped his figures in an ink slab and scrawled them across the paper, five ‘S’ shaped letters formed. He described them as five dragons and offered the drawing to the Chinese King, who looking at it said they resembled earthworms.

Trang Quynh responded that if the King knew anyone who had actually seen a dragon and could describe its appearance then he would repaint the image once again for the King.

A dragon has been given a different form and appearance in different phases of history. During the Le Dynasty, the dragon had a snake’s body, a unicorn’s head and held an oriental pearl in its mouth. Later during the Ly and Tran Dynasties, its body became shorter and was covered with scales, a beard was shown around its mouth and its nose was as big as an oriental pearl.

Dragon images were formerly used to adorn imperial palaces or on paintings and on embroideries of royal apparel of Kings. Later they were more frequently used on roofs of pagodas and temples and along staircase balustrades in homes of the nobility. Dragons have always been used as relief on embossed works.

There is a belief that royal dragons of the Kings have five toe nails while dragons of the common people have three toe nails. Artists and sculptors find the dragon useful in relief works while jewellery craftsmen use them prolifically in gemstone, gold and diamond ornaments.

Vietnamese believe they are descendants of dragons and fairies, as told in the legend of Lac Long Quan-Au Co. Most countries in the world have created their own animal symbols, like the kangaroo in Australia and the lion in Singapore. Each nation chooses to adopt the good and positive characteristics of their chosen national animal.

Vietnam has two significant symbols, one being the dragon which stands for material wealth and the other the fairy which stands for intellect and the positive spirit of man.

Interestingly the geographical map of Vietnam resembles a dragon, with its mouth open and gnawing towards the mainland instead of sucking water from the East Sea. This is supposedly the reason why geomancers believe that Vietnam should focus on agriculture.

Vietnamese believe that dragons and fairies are their progenitors. There is a supposition that a dragon is an avatar of a snake or carp which had led a pious and religious life for centuries. As a result, people in northern Vietnam usually offer carp to the Kitchen God each year to see the godly family leave for heaven.

No one has ever actually sighted a dragon, but all believe that a dragon symbolises material and spiritual wealth.

2012 is ‘Year of the Dragon’ and Vietnamese people believe it will be a good year in all aspects of life may it be economy, politics or even national defense.

By Nguyen Duy Tam – Translated by Hai Mien

Other news