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Echoes of a glorious past

Update: April, 08/2013 - 05:18
People stroll through the grounds of the Ham Rong Temple in Ha Noi's Ha Mo Commune. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
by Hoang Trung Hieu

Among Viet Nam's ancient capital cities, beside the famous names like Co Loa, Hoa Lu, Thang Long and Hue, there is another citadel that few people know about, the O Dien Citadel in Dan Phuong District on the outskirts of Ha Noi.

A recent seminar featuring leading historians and researchers confirmed that O Dien was a political and military centre at the end of the 6th century, situated on what is today Ha Mo Commune.

Viet Nam was locked in a constant struggle against the Chinese Liang and Sui dynasties at the time, who continually sent their troops to conquer the Southern land.

In spring 542, a mass uprising led by national hero Ly Bi overthrew the Liang rulers. Over the next two years, Ly Bi continued to defeat the Chinese who twice returned to invade Viet Nam.

By 544, Ly Bi had declared an independent country which he named "Van Xuan", literally meaning Thousands of Springs, as he hoped the country would existed for eternity. He crowned himself Nam De (King of Southern land).

But in 545, the Chinese launched a huge-scale conquest and this time Ly Bi was defeated. He evacuted to a mountainous area and transfered his power to General Trieu Quang Phuc.

Ly Bi's elder brother, Ly Thien Bao, also had to withdraw to the Laos border region after intense fighting with the Chinese invading troops, while Gen Trieu Quang Phuc continued to battle them in the Northern delta.

What followed over the next 50 years were many bloody battles between the Vietnamese and the invaders, while the capital was changed to Co Loa in 602 as part of the final defence plans by King Ly Phat Tu, a kinsman of Ly Bi. A huge war ensued, with many casualties on both sides, but the country eventually fell into the hands of China's Sui dynasty.

Though they were lost in the resistance war against the Sui, the role of King Ly Phat Tu and his subsequent disciples was still acknowledged in the nation's history. Therefore, O Dien citadel, the first capital of his dynasty (known as The Post-Ly Nam De dynasty in Vietnamese history), can be considered one of the most important ancient relics of Ha Noi predating the Thang Long Capital Era.

Historical Professor Le Van Lan claims the country's first capital city was Van Lang, the second was Co Loa and the third was Hoa Lu.

"In the time between the second and third capitals, there was a thousand-year period when Vietnamese people had to fight Chinese domination," he says.

"It is clear that, during this historical period, O Dien was the capital where the King lived from 571 to 602."

Ha Mo is a historical land with a rich tapestry of historical relics, says head of the commune's culture unit, Nguyen Xuan Viet.

"As 15 centuries have gone by, the traces of the O Dien political and military centre can now only be seen at ancient structures like Van Xuan Communal House, Ham Rong Temple and Chinh Khi Temple," Viet says.

Throughout the last 15 centuries, local people have maintained the evidence of their ancestors' patriotism, the indomitable spirit to fight against the Northern domination and the will to preserve independence and self-rule, according to local folklorist Nguyen Toa.

"We locals worship historical characters including Ly Phat Tu, his sons Ly Bat Lang and Ly Nha Lang, and General Ly Pho Dinh.

"Locals still remember old verses as: 'Our village was former land of a King; our people were important mandarins in the old time; this land was the former capital city; locals have a loyal tradition from then till now'," says Toa.

Ha Mo was the birthplace of many prominent characters, such as To Hien Thanh (1102-79), a man skilled in both literature and martial arts, who became a leading mandarin of another Ly dynasty in the 12th century. He served three kings: Ly Than Tong, Ly Anh Tong and Ly Cao Tong.

In the 19th century, monk Thich Thanh Trang of the local Hai Giac Pagoda led an uprising against the French, bravely sacrificing himself for the nation.

Local elders often tell stories about the ancient O Dien citadel, and the reasons why they held processions to move a Saint statue from his temple to the communal house during the village festival.

To supply clear proof, folklorist Toa and cultural researcher Viet took us to visit the main historical relics in Ha Mo.

"Van Xuan Communal House was named after the country by King Ly Nam De. It is used for worshipping Prince Ly Bat Lang and was recognised as a national historical relic in 1991," says Viet.

In the communal house, there is a stele that reads: "King Ly Phat Tu assigned locals to build a temple for his son, Prince Ly Bat Lang, on the foundations of his palace in O Dien citadel after the Prince died." This is the Ham Rong Temple.

The famous historical relics in Ha Mo include the Chinh Khi Temple for worshipping King Ly Phat Tu, Van Hien Temple dedicated to To Hien Thanh, and Tri Chi Temple, dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao who defeated the Yuan-Mongol invaders in the 13th century.

Ha Mo people still preserve ancient games such as boat racing, duck catching and a rice cooking competition.

"Ha Mo people used to be the juniors and soldiers of Prince Ly Bat Lang, following him to fight the Northern invaders and protect O Dien citadel. The citadel was located near the local river, so these game reflect the ways our troops practised war games," says Toa.

He adds that most of the ancient paralled sentences in Han scripts at the local temples and pagodas relate to O Dien.

"The truth is, most communal houses, pagodas and temples in Ha Mo, as well as local religious practices and festivals, still preserve materials mentioning the importance of the O Dien citadel," he concludes.

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