|Local people at the Duong River take part in a ceremony that pays hommage to Kinh Duong Vuong.
by Hoang Trung Hieu
Every year, A Lu villagers in the northern province of Bac Ninh choose a man aged over 60 who has enjoyed a happy life to chair an ancient ritual for Lac Long Quan and his father Kinh Duong Vuong, the pair believed to have spawned the blood line of the Vietnamese nation.
"Within his prayers, the chosen man will call: 'Father, where are you? Please come to save us',"
says Bien Xuan Pham, manager of the Kinh Duong Vuong Temple, adding that this came from a very old tradition, when people in strife would seek help from the nation's father.
For over 4,000 years, Bac Ninh people have been fiercely proud that their land is home to the tomb of Kinh Duong Vuong - the man known as the founding father of the Vietnamese nation.
According to the book Dai Viet su ky toan thu (Complete Annals of Great Viet), Kinh Duong Vuong ruled a large country at around 2879BC. He died on the 18th day of the first lunar month in Vu Ninh (known today as Bac Ninh Province).
Temples for Kinh Duong Vuong were built in the central province of Ha Tinh (which the king made his capital) and in Thuan Thanh District of Bac Ninh Province.
The tomb and temples of Kinh Duong Vuong have been considered by Vietnamese feudal dynasties as particularly important places of commemoration.
According to researcher Do Thuy from the Bac Ninh Relics Management Board, relics from the temples and tomb of Kinh Duong Vuong, his son Lac Long Quan, and Au Co (Lac Long Quan's wife) belong to A Lu Village.
Folk legend states that Lac Long Quan and Au Co gave birth to the Hung Kings, who then founded the Van Lang country - the first Vietnamese dynasty.
"In A Lu Village, ancestors built two temples: The Upper Temple for Kinh Duong Vuong and the Lower Temple for Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Sadly destroyed in 1949 by French troops, the temples were large and impressive, housing complicated wooden sculptures of four sacred animals (Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix)," he says.
Happily Thuy adds that in 2000, a new temple was built for the three founders following the traditional style of architecture, containing high beams embossed with tributes to the four sacred animals, the four seasons and stylised flowers.
Kinh Duong Vuong's tomb is now situated outside the Duong River dyke, on alluvial soil sprouting luxuriant, evergreen trees.
"According to historical books, the temple and tomb for Kinh Duong Vuong have existed for a very long time, until the reign of King Minh Mang, when the tomb was upgraded and worshipping was officially recognised at national level," says Thuy.
Near the tomb, sits a stone stele made in 1840. It testifies that the tomb was restored that year, during the reign of King Minh Mang.
Today, the people of Phu Tho Province (home to the Hung Kings Temple) send an annual delegation to the Kinh Duong Vuong Temple one day prior to the Hung Kings Temple Festival (March 10 of the lunar calendar).
In an effort to preserve relics and promote historical and cultural values, Bac Ninh Province is implementing a project to upgrade the Kinh Duong Vuong Temple at a cost of VND500 billion (nearly US$24 million). After restoration, the temple will cover a total area of 40ha, featuring a statue, a square and a cultural showroom.
"When completed, this will be an important highlight, linking historical monuments in the province, while contributing to tourism and socio-economic development," says Le Xuan Bac, a district leader.
The project to restore and promote values of the National Historical and Cultural Relics of Tomb and Temple for Kinh Duong Vuong will be implemented from now until 2019.
The delegation burns incense and prays to ancestors, asking for their permission to carry out the Hung Kings Temple Festival.
Meanwhile, every year in mid-January of the lunar calendar, A Lu villagers hold their aforementioned festival. This usually begins on the 16th day, when villagers are busy preparing for the main ritual: a water carrying procession from the Duong River to the communal house for worshipping.
"Legend has it that after helping the people, Lac Long Quan came back to the Palace of the River God. The ritual is rooted in paternal love: calling our father back to save the villagers," says Pham.
Then on the next two days, villagers offer sacrifices for the nation's ancestors at the Upper and Lower Temples, before holding a party. Sacrifices include pigs, banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) and banh day (glutinous rice dumpling), while the party includes folk entertainment such as tuong (classical drama), cheo (traditional operetta), danh du (swinging) and wresting, attracting crowds of people.
In the past, this ritual lasted more than 10 days, so it began on the 14th day of the first lunar month.
Hit by the time constraints of modern living, the festival now only runs from the 16th to 18th day.
Researcher Thuy says the water procession is a ritual that is common in many folk festivals all over the country.
"The water procession is a unique cultural feature of agricultural residents, handed down through generations to express wishes for good weather, ample water supplies and bumper crops.
But this ritual at the Kinh Duong Vuong Temple has another significance: it reminds us of the nation's origin and founders, about the paternal and maternal love between Father Lac Long Quan, Mother Au Co and our people," he says.
Villager Pham says the village also has another ritual for their ancestors. On the 15th day of the eight lunar month, villagers offer three trays of steamed sticky rice, three trays of tram (canarium) and three trays of raw fish to Kinh Duong Vuong, Lac Long Quan and Au Co.
"Canarium symbolise the 50 sons who followed Mother Au Co to settle in mountainous regions, while the fish symbolises the other 50 sons who followed Father Lac Long Quan to live in coastal regions," he says.