|Saints go marching in: The verses of songs in chau van focus on praising the merits of saints. — VNP Photo
HA NOI (VNS) — Troupes from 29 districts will perform chau van, a traditional ritual combining folk singing and dancing, in an 11-day festival starting today.
This is the first official large-scale festival celebrating the art form, which was created during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) in Nam Dinh and has since been popular at festivals and rituals in northern Viet Nam. The joyful melodies praise beneficent deities and national heroes, backed by tambourine, castanets and cymbals. The highly rhythmic form of singing often accompanies hau dong (mediumship) to honour the Mother Goddess and connect to other gods.
Professor Ngo Duc Thinh, director of Viet Nam Belief Culture Research and Preservation Centre in Ha Noi, said the festival would help preserve the authenticity of the ritual.
"In many places, hau dong and chau van have been deformed and used for superstition-oriented rather than religious purposes, depriving this traditional singing genre of its cultural and artistic value and giving rise to many misunderstandings," said Thinh.
To counter the perception that the ritual is superstitious, organisers recommend performers refrain from smoking excessively, drinking alcohol or delivering offerings in cash. But these restrictions are not really practical, Thinh said.
"In theory, when getting into a trance, performers become Ong Hoang Ba (the third Prince), Hoang Bay (the seventh Prince) or Hoang Muoi (the tenth Prince). Should we not let princes drink or smoke?" Thinh said. "Cash offerings have been given for many years. It's long been believed that they are given by God to those participating into a ritual. So I think it's best to let the performers decide their own practices."
The festival will be divided into two rounds, with the ten best performers selected to perform in the second round. Unlike at other festivals, troupes will not perform for prizes or distinction.
"The initial chau van rituals will take place in old temples, staying true to their origin," said vice director of the municipal Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Khac Loi.
"However, in the next round, the festival will take place in Cong Nhan Theatre [42 Trang Tien Street] where a stage will enable performers to present the art to its full potential."
On the sidelines of the festival, a workshop on preserving the precious values of chau van rituals in modern life will be held on October 5. Speakers will include scientists, cultural authorities and chau van performers.
Relevant agencies are working on a dossier seeking UNESCO's recognition of the traditional signing genre as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. — VNS