The accomplished wife of Nguyen Hue

Ghenh Temple the second version
Photo: Dan Ton

Vietnam Heritage, March 2011 -- At the end of the slope next to Chuong Duong Bridge, in Long Bien District, Hanoi, is a small but long hamlet and Ghenh Temple, where Ghenh Pier used to be.
The temple is linked with the life of Princess Le Ngoc Han, who was once regarded as ‘the fairy princess’ for her talent in ‘cầm-kỳ-thi-họa’ (cầm: playing musical instruments, kỳ: playing chess, thi: composing poetry, họa: drawing/painting – the four areas in which girls in upper-class families used to be judged).
In the 17th century, under the nominal authority of the Le kings, who established themselves in Hanoi, two administrations were set up,   one in the north under the aristocratic Trinh family and the other in the south under the Nguyen lords, according to the book Vietnam: A Long History, by Nguyen Khac Vien. In 1771, Nguyen Hue, along with his two brothers, launched an insurgency in the southern province of Binh Dinh that quickly removed the Nguyen lords and Trinh. Nguyen Hue paid homage to King Le Hien Tong, who gave him his daughter Le Ngoc Han in marriage. Le Ngoc Han went to the south with her husband. Le Hien Tong died, leaving the throne to his son Le Chieu Thong, who tried to remove Nguyen Hue and his brothers with the help of the Chinese. Nguyen Hue won and became the king of Vietnam. In 1792 Nguyen Hue died and the Nguyen lords regained power. Le Ngoc Han died several years later. Her children also died young.
Le Ngoc Han’s mother secretly took her remains from Hue to her hometown to bury. The King got to know about it and immediately commanded that Le Ngoc Han’s grave be broken into and her remains thrown in the Red River in the area of Ai Mo village, Long Bien District. People of Ai Mo Village built a temple to offer the princess their condolences. In time, the small temple was swept away by floods.
In 1858, Dang Thi Ban, an elder of Ai Mo Village, rebuilt the temple with her own money. In 1872, the temple was destroyed by French colonists. Dang Thi Ban rebuilt it again with the help of villagers.
The spacious Ghenh Temple is now gently located in a peaceful area surrounded by trees. 

The subsequent, present-day version

Photo: Quang Thanh

The temple-keeper, Mr Dang Dinh Khue, 79, says. ‘During the Nguyen Dynasty, the temple was treated as poorly as Princess Le Ngoc Han had been. Whatever belonged to Nguyen Hue’s dynasty was searched out and destroyed. The villagers therefore had to hide Le Ngoc Han’s altar and pretended to worship another holy person in this same temple.’
Mr Khue is the fifth generation of keepers the temple has had since Dang Thi Ban. ­
When Dang Thi Ban first rebuilt the temple, she sculpted a statue of the princess. It is 152 years old and perfectly preserved, in the back chamber, and used for worship.
Mr Khue said, ‘In my time, we have better conditions to renovate the temple. All the money we get from visitors is used to maintain and expand this holy place. The whole temple now is proudly built of ironwood.’ 
He said the Ghenh Temple festival was on the 6th day of the 8th lunar-calendar month. On that day, the whole village would be bursting with a parade of virgin men and women accompanying and carrying the altar of Princess Le Ngoc Han. In the middle of the Red River incense is offered to the princess and her mother.n

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