Hung Kings Temple Festival (Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương) is one of the most important national holidays in Vietnam to commemorate Hung Kings who had built the country at its early stage. The festival strengthens the importance of a long-standing philosophy in Vietnamese culture: “Uống nước nhớ nguồn” (When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree).
Annually, the festival begins with a lot of cultural activities in several days before the main ceremony held on the 10th day of the third lunar month at Hung Temple, Nghia Linh Moutain, Phu Tho Province (Northern Vietnam).
With its special values, the worship of Hung Kings in Phu Tho was officially recognized by the UNESCO as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on December 6th, 2012.
The legend of Hung Kings:
Legend has it that the first Hung king was the eldest son of Lac Long Quan and Au Co – who gave birth to 100 eggs which later hatched into 100 beautiful babies. The babies grew up and became Vietnamese ancestors; that’s why Vietnamese people are also known as “Dragon’s children and Fairy’s grand-children” (Con rồng cháu tiên).
Besides, it was said that Hung Kings’ regime was ruled under 18 dynasties from 2879 BC till 258 BC. The power of the regime covered what are now Northern Vietnam and a part of Southern China. Over 2621 ruling years, the Hung Kings successfully built Vietnam as a sovereign country from the beginning and forged the sense of community, patriotism, and traditions among its people. The Kings also taught their people how to grow rice and worship Nature Gods like the Rice and Sun Gods at the highest mountain in the region – Nghia Linh Mountain – to pray for nice weather, abundant harvests, peace and happiness for the whole community.
To commemorate marvellous merits of the Kings, the people built a temple at the centre of Nghia Linh (which is now Hung Kings Temple) and chose the 10th day of the third lunar month to be the Hung Kings’ death anniversary.
Hung Kings Temple Festival is divided into two main parts: ceremony and cultural activities. The ceremony is honourably held at the Đền Thượng (Upper Temple) which is in the top of the mountain. After the ceremony, cultural activities are held around the mountain foot with the participation of surrounding villages.
The ceremony is solemnly held with the presence of government leaders, village elders, villagers and tourists. The procession is led by a glorious palanquin with offerings consisting of “Le tam sinh” (a pig, a goat, and a cow), Banh chung (square glutinous rice cake), Banh day (round glutinous rice cake) and colorful sticky rice. The “Senh tien” traditional dance of Mong people is also a special part of the festival.
Banh chung and Banh day have had a special position in Vietnamese culture for a long time. Banh chung is the symbol of the soil because of its square shape, while the round shape of Banh day represents the sun. The two elements are very important in such an agricultural country as Vietnam. Thus, Banh chung and Banh day always appear in the trays of offerings in special events, especially in Hung Kings Temple Festival, for expressing gratitude for the Earth and Sky which provide people with food.
In the early morning of 10th March, incense-offering ritual is carried out by leaders of the nation, representatives of Phu Tho province as well as representatives of other provinces. Next is the turn of village elders and finally other people.
*The cultural activities:
Lavish palanquins in the competition with the participation of surrounding villages create the convivial atmosphere for the festival. The winning palanquin will become a representative of other palanquins to lead the next year’s procession to the Upper Temple for the solemn ceremony, which brings honour and pride to its villagers. It is also believed that the winning village will receive blessings from the Hung Kings and the Gods.
Preparing for a glorious palanquin requires a lot of work and effort. Each palanquin procession includes three sophisticatedly carved palanquins. The leading palanquin carries an incense stick burner holder, betel nuts, a sacred water holder and a wine gourd. The next one carries a plaque of Gods as well as gorgeous parasols and fans. The final one carries Banh Chung and Banh day. The palanquins are followed by its village leaders and elders in traditional costumes.
*Hat Xoan (Xoan Singing):
Hat Xoan is one of the most unique and important rituals in the Hung Kings Temple Festival. Legend has it that Hat Xoan has been handed down from generation to generation since the time of Hung Kings.
– Folk games: wrestling, nem con (throwing a colorful ball through a circle on the top of a high bamboo tree), du tien (swing a high bamboo swing), and cockfighting.
– Singing: There is a large stage for folk professional singers to perform traditional arts like Cheo, Quan ho, Hat giao duyen, and Hat trong quan. At the other side – Cong Quan, there are melodious sounds of kettledrum performed by Muong artists from Thanh Son.
– Competitions: “Blowing fire to cook rice” (Thoi lua nau com), “making Banh Chung” (Goi banh chung) and Hat Xoan competitions.
The Hung Kings Temple Festival in 2017 was held in six days from 5 to 10 March on lunar calendar with the participation of Hanoi city, Thai Binh, Binh Phuoc and Ben Tre provinces. Besides traditional activities, the participating provinces bring along their traditional arts like “don ca tai tu” of Ben Tre and water puppet of Hanoi and Thai Binh. This year’s festival received about one million people from different parts of Vietnam.
In conclusion, the Hung Kings Temple Festival has played a crucial part in the spiritual lives of Vietnamese people. Thanks to each generation of Vietnamese people, its merits and traditions are still maintained up to now in order to remind Vietnamese people that our present country is the fruit of ancestors’ efforts and that we must continue our ancestors’ work to create a better country.
Writer: Nhi Nguyen – Minh Nguyen