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Summer serenity on Sai Son

Update: June, 13/2013 - 10:29
by Mark Robert Carle
Local expertise: A fan maker in Chang Son Village. — VNS Photos Mark Robert Carle

(VNS) On a recent Sunday, a few friends and I visited Sai Son Mountain in Phuong Cach Commune, 30km southwest of Ha Noi. We ventured there to see Thay Pagoda, Tay Phuong Pagoda and Chang Son Village.

Thay Pagoda was built in the 11th century during the reign of King Ly Nhan Tong. It consists of three sections: Ha Pagoda, Trung Pagoda, and Thuong Pagoda.

The outer part, Ha Pagoda, is for offerings and ceremonies; the middle part, Trung Pagoda, is for worshipping of Buddha; and the inner part is for worshipping monks and priests.

In front of the pagoda is Long Tri pond, in the middle of which is a stage called Thuy Dinh, where water puppet performances are held during festivals. The surrounding area features 16 hills jutting up from the farmland, like the body of a dragon jutting out from the sea.

Steps lead to another hilltop pagoda complex. It was a 250-step vertical ascent, and once we humped it up, we found a collection of charming old buildings and shrines perched on the mountain, along with a natural cave shrine.

The Tay Phuong pagoda was built in the eighth century and completely redesigned in 1794 under the Tay Son dynasty. It consists of three areas: the Hall of Prostration, the Main Shrine, and the Sanctuary, all with double tiered roofs.

Patience is a virtue: People fish at Long Tri Pond by the Thay Pagoda.

It seems that this architectural arrangement is inspired by Buddhist and Confucianist thought. The three constructions symbolise the forces governing the world. The central building has a directing role and is consequently raised higher than the others. It symbolises Heaven.

The building at the rear represents the foundation of the world – the earth. The building in front symbolises the world of man.

A festival is held in the grounds of the Tay Phuong Pagoda in early spring each year. It features many games and entertainment, including marionette performances, tugs-of-war, cock fighting – and chess with human chess pieces

The central piece of the festival is the Sam Hoi (Expiation) ceremony, which calls on all men to practise compassion and charity, to avoid wrong doing, and aim for serenity and quietude. That's a nice addition to any festival.

Our last stop was to Chang Son fan-making village. The fabled fan is said to be not only useful, but also a beautiful image appearing in many poems, on stages and in the cultural and spiritual life.

The fan's blades are made from bamboo. To make them more durable, fan makers join them after cutting the bamboo into short pieces and scratching off the green outer layer before applying a layer of varnish.

Then, they are tied up in a bunch. After a few months when the varnish is dry, the slats of bamboo are whittled to make the fan blades. Special paper to make the fans is purchased from Dong Ho Village. In recent years, Chang Son fans have been exported to Japan and South Korea.

All in all it was a fascinating day revealing the characteristics of the Vietnamese people: simple but profound, and beautiful but discreet. — VNS


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