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Viet Nam celebrates its Hung founders

Update: April, 18/2005 - 00:00

Viet Nam celebrates its Hung founders

Extravaganza: The opening performance, called Forever the Hung Kings’ Holy Land, featured 2,500 artists. - VNS Photo Truong Vi
Hail to the kings: Pilgrims burn incense at the Hung Temple to pay respect to the national ancestors, the Hung Kings.

Making tracks...

Getting there:

Buses to Viet Tri Town leave from Ha Noi’s My Dinh Bus Station every 30 minutes from 5am to 6pm. It takes 2.15 hour to reach the destination. Tickets cost VND22,000 each.

Restaurant in Viet Tri Town:

A dinner filled with seafood delicacies costs VND100,000 per person.


Over a million and a half people travelled north this weekend to honour Viet Nam’s eighteen original kings. The Hung Kings Festival 2005 is bigger and brighter than ever before. Khanh Chi reports on the history and festivities.

Beginning at 7am tomorrow morning, Vietnamese from all the parts of the country will converge in the northern Phu Tho Province to celebrate and pay respects to the nation’s fathers, the Hung Kings.

Each year, on the 10th day of the third lunar month, the Bach Viet ethnic group holds a festival to honour their ancestors, the 18 Hung Kings. While the festival has drawn huge crowds since it was named a day for national celebration in 2000, this yearcelebration promises to be the biggest ever, as it coincides with the 30th anniversary of the national reunification and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the republic.

Tomorrow morning, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An will lead senior Party and State officials and pilgrims to the Hung Upper Temple for a State ritual to pay homage to the founders of the nation.

"It is time for all Vietnamese generations to show profound gratitude towards the ancestors who built and defended our nation and to promote the saying, ‘Remember the water source when you drink it’," Nguyen Thi Kim Hai, deputy chairman of the provincial People’s Committee and head of the festival’s organising board said.

The ceremony, solemn and sacred, will be held at the Hung Thuong (Upper) Temple on Nghia Linh Mountain, which was used for worshipping gods during the Hung Dynasty, who settled the Van Lang kingdom, or what is now Viet Tri Town.

The ceremony will begin at Viet Tri’s Phu Tho Conference Centre, then move to the Hung Temple’s festival centre and then to upper temple. The participants will lay a wreaths of flowers in front of the carved stele that marks the place where President Ho Chi Minh said famously, "the Hung Kings founded the nation, we should get together to protect our land," while talking to pioneering Vietnamese groups.

All delegates and participants will wear festive costumes as they carry the national and festival flags, and display a wreath that reads "Vietnamese people remember the merits of Hung Kings." Eight young girls in traditional long dresses will carry incense, flowers, and offerings, and the procession will be accompanied by musicians playing ceremonial music.

One row of pilgrims will be comprised of 100 young men wearing traditional costumes and will reflect the legendary 100 sons of the Vietnamese people.

The grandest festival

The five-day festival was officially opened by a large-scale cultural and artistic performance on Thursday night at the newly-built 20,000-seat Viet Tri Stadium in Viet Tri Town, 12km from the Hung Temple.

The opening performance, lasting just over an hour, called Forever Hung Kings’ Holy Land, was performed by 2,500 artists from Central and local art troupes and was called "most impressive" by the director Pham Thi Thanh.

"It consisted of three acts, with ten scenes each, that were multicoloured, exciting and beautiful, combining traditional Vietnamese art with modern technology to demonstrate gratitude for the kings," said Thanh, who also directed the closing ceremony. The closing ceremony, Phu Tho, Ancestral Land with the New Era will be held on Van Lang Park’s floating Dam Ca Stage at 7pm tomorrow, and focuses more on the balance between the ancient and the modern.

In the third act, artists shaped a large-scale banh chung, a Vietnamese cake made of sticky rice, green bean and pork usually made during the lunar new year. The banh chung was wrapped in green leaves and tied in red bamboo string to be offered to the Hung Kings and to commemorate the effort of Lang Lieu, the youngest son of the 18th Hung King, who was the original creator of the traditional cake.

Thanh said the cake was "created" by 1,000 artists.

"I feel incredibly happy. It is the first time I have been part of such a big performance, and it’s even more special that it’s for the Hung Temple Festival," said Pham Anh Tuyet, 22, a first-year student at the Phu Tho School of Culture and Arts. She said she felt proud of being born on the very place the Hung Kings founded the nation.

"We practised for 20 days before the performance," she said, raising a fake tea tree over her head, a prop in the seventh scene. She explained that there were five common plants in Phu Tho Province, rice, palm, tea, bamboo and millet that were being featured in the performance.

Apart from the opening, closing and incense ceremonies, there were a range of cultural, athletic and artistic activities.

Professional art groups including the Bac Ninh Province’s Quan ho (folk) songs, Dak Lak Song and Dance group, Viet Nam Circus performance group, Thang Long Song and Dance Theatre, and song and dance groups from Lang Son, Lao Cai and Phu Tho provinces all performed.

Other festival activities included a rice-cooking race, bronze drumming, human chess, a rice-cake braying contest, a boat race, wrestling matches, and water puppetry. A photograph exhibition displaying the works from 15 northern provinces, a rural-styled market, a trade fair, a fashion show promoting Vietnamese styles, an international sculpting camp featuring 31 sculptors from Viet Nam, Norway, the Netherlands, Cuba, the US and Sweden took place continuously throughout the celebration. National and local art troupes from China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea also joined the festivities.

Forty musicians from Korea’s National Traditional Orchestra played folk songs from different regions in South Korea, including Jindo Arirang, Miryang Arirang, Seongjupuri, and Baettuieora. The Japanese Dodan-Pa beat their traditional Japanese Wadaiko and Taiko drums and other Japanese artists gave a Yamaha motorbike performance. A Chinese art troupe from the Guangxi Province joined in with lion dances.

Nguyen Dac Sinh, director of the festival’s press centre and editor-in-chief of the Phu Tho Newspaper estimated that 1.5 million visitors gathered in Viet Tri Town and at Hung Temple during the festival. He continued that the influx of celebrants caused traffic jams in going to the Temple.

"This day last year (seven days before the festival), it was not so crowded as now," said Duong Hong, a 73-year-old retiree from the neighbouring Vinh Phuc Province’s Vinh Tuong District.

Hong said he did not go on the actual day of the incense presenting ceremony because it would be so crowded that he could not visit every corner of the Hung Temple.

He said there have been many changes since last year. "Everything is organised better this year, from the vehicle parking to relaxing spaces," as he looked at ancient Dong Son drum displayed at the museum beneath the Nghia Linh Mountain.

"Also, visitors seem to be more aware of environmental protection here because they are paying homage to the founders of our nation," Hong said, saying goodbye as he was about to climb up to the Hung Temple.

A press centre was set up by the Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications and the provincial Post Office to support the media, with 40 computers and two flat-screen TVs.

Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, Ngo Duc Vuong, said at the anniversary, Phu Tho’s residents were honoured to represent people nationwide to care and preserve the ancestors’ temples.

"Local people and authorities have invested a great deal of time and effort into the protection and restoration of these historical relics."

Sticky: A group of young men tries to win the sticky rice braying contest.

Start of a sovereign nation

It is said that the first king of the country was Kinh Duong, who ruled over a vast territory in the south called Xich Quy (Red Devil).

Kinh Duong married the daughter of Than Long (Sacred Dragon), king of Lake Dongding. The couple had a son, Sung Lam, who later became king and called himself Lac Long Quan (King Dragon of the Land of Lac). The wife of Lac Long Quan, Au Co, gave birth to a sac containing 100 eggs from which 100 babies were born.

One day, Lac Long Quan told his wife "I descend from dragons and you from fairies. We’re as incompatible as water and fire and we cannot continue in harmony." The king parted from his queen, taking to the sea with 50 of his children and his wife moved to the mountains, followed by the rest of the clan.

The eldest son, who was with this mother, established himself at Phong Chau, now the southern part of Phu Tho Province, and made himself king. That was King Hung I whose realm was made up by 50 tribes.

The 18 Hung kings then ruled the country from 2879 to 258BC.

According to historical records, the regime of the Hung Kings was an impressive, brilliant and outstanding start for establishing Viet Nam as a sovereign nation.

The 18 generations of the Hung Kings saw the birth and development of a nation and are credited with forging national characteristics such as the sense of community, mutual affection, patriotism and unwillingness to yield to oppression. From this original settlement, the Hong (Red) River civilisation and the pre-Dong Son cultures grew.

This celebrated date, the 10th day of the third lunar month, is dedicated to commemorating the anniversary of their ancestor’s death, founder of the Vietnamese nation—the first Hung King.

Hung Temple is located on Nghia Linh Mountain range, 100km north-west of Ha Noi in Lam Thao District, Phu Tho Province. - VNS

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