(No.6, Vol.8,Dec 2018-Jan 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Hoa Lu Festival at the shrine of King Dinh Tien Hoang.
Photo: Nguyen Phung Chi
Water procession on Hoang Long River at the Hoa Lu Festival.
Photo: Phung Tung Khanh
Hoa Lu Festival (or Truong Yen Festival) takes place every year from the 8th to 10th day of the 3rd lunar month at the shrines of King Dinh Tien Hoang and King Le Dai Hanh at Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province. These sacred shrines belong to the ‘Complex of National Relics at Ancient Capital Hoa Lu’. This complex is even more special, as it is the central part of the ‘Trang An World Heritage Complex’ in Ninh Binh Province.
Attending Truong Yen Festival are thousands of people who want to demonstrate gratitude and pay tribute to the heroic country-founding kings of the Dinh and Le dynasties, especially King Dinh Tien Hoang.
The festival re-enacts the whole life and deeds of King Dinh Tien Hoang, from his childhood to the time he conquered the 12 warlords to become king and found the very first absolute monarchy of Vietnam.
The festival is quite significant in the community’s spiritual life. It reinforces the people’s positives values and pride. All those who attend the festival do so with the hope that their family and community will enjoy peace and prosperity.
In the past, the tray of offerings to be presented to the Kings was prepared by the whole community with great care. It used to be the expression of the common feelings of respect and gratitude. Today as material life has been greatly improved, each person attending the festival has their own tray of offerings, and so the communal tray becomes less important.
The main events of the festival include Shrine opening ritual, Water procession, Incense offering, Fire procession, Reed flag mimic battle, Lady warrior procession, dragon dance, and a rice cooking contest.
Water procession is one of the most attended rituals. This is the opening act of the celebration. The water procession starts from the shrine of King Dinh and goes to the bank of the Hoang Long River. Embarking on some waiting boats, the main one having a dragon shape and standing at the center. The boats move to the middle of the river for the people to conduct their prayer and drop votive gold and offerings into the water to thank the Lord of Water. Then the host releases a circular red cloth into the water, scoops water from within this circle and pours it into a big jar covered with a piece of red cloth, which purifies the water. When the jar is full, the boats spread out and go back to the bank. The dragon boat makes a left turn before coming back to the bank. The procession continues bringing the jar of water back to the shrine.
The traditional yearly water procession reflects the intimate relationship between the past, present and future of the whole community, which includes elements of the spirit of the rivers and mountains, the instinctive awareness of the origins of the people and the country, and the morality of ‘being grateful to the headwaters that relieved thy thirst’.
The most sacred part takes place at night at both the shrines of Kings Dinh and Le. The prayer text consists of nine sections. After each section is read by the host, one male and one female sing a song in the genre of ca tru to interpret the content of the prayer.
Visitors can join activities such as wrestling and martial arts contests, boat race, swinging, singing chau van songs, composing poems and commenting on them, letter formation games, staff dance, dragon or kylin dance, and human chess.
Among the folk games, the most unique one is the ‘reed flag mimic battle’, which re-enacts the childhood of Dinh Bo Linh grazing buffaloes in the fields of Truong Yen. In the current setting, there are about 60 school students participating in the game. First, the kids led by their supervisor come to the altar to pray and ask for permission to perform. The ritual complete, they take turn come forward to kowtow, and then start playing. After the game they come again to thank the kings and pray for peace for the country and prosperity for the people.’