23/09/2009 | 09:25:00

Chem Temple Festival

Chem Temple is located in Thuy Phuong village in Hanoi's suburban district of Tu Liem.

It is dedicated to Ly Ong Trong, alias Ly Than, a legendary figure during the reign of the Hung Kings. A native of Chem area, he was a tall man with unequaled physical strength and excellent at the art of war. Every year, a festival is held from May 14 to May 16 (lunar calendar) in remembrance of the hero.

At the time, the Chinese Tan dynasty wanted to expand its territories to the South. Thus, it sent in General Do Thu and half a million soldiers to invade the Au Lac state. Under the leadership of King Thuc Phan, the Au Viet and Lac Viet peoples united to beat off the invasion, thus maintaining the national independence. Do Thu was killed and the invaders had to retreat. Ly Than made a great contribution to this victory.

In order to forge friendship relations with the Tan dynasty and ensure permanent independence, Thuc Phan sent Ly Than to China to serve China's Emperor Tan Thuy Hoang. Having tested his talents in many fields, the Chinese Emperor entrusted Ly Than with the task of safeguarding the northern frontiers against the Mongolian invaders, a task which he fulfilled most successfully.

His feat of arms was duly rewarded by the Emperor, who gave one of his princesses, Bach Ly Cung, in marriage to him. As he grew old, Ly Than requested a home leave and thereafter no longer returned to China. Later the Mongolians again attacked China and the Chinese Emperor asked Ly Than to fight them, but he refused, saying that he was too old. The Chinese Emperor then decided to make a big statue of Ly Ong Trong. The statue, with movable arms and legs, was put at the entrance of the Shen-Yang fortress as deterrence against Mongolian invaders. Thinking that the statue was Ly Than, the invaders retreated.

In admiration for Ly Than, the local villagers built a temple in his honour. The temple is not large but it is an old piece of architecture, with many sculpted figures. It contains, among other things, two gilded wooden statues of Ly Than and his wife.

The Chem Temple festival comprises a number of rituals such as general ceremony, water procession, procession of the funeral oration, procession of the cult implements, ceremony for washing the statues, and a ceremony in honor of Buddha, etc.

The water procession takes place early in the morning of May 15. This is a major ceremony designed to obtain water for the statues' bathing. The participants, in colorful costumes, carry offerings and assemble to a place, 3km from the communal house, where they embark on three big boats decorated with dragon sculptures. The boats go downstream until they reach the entrance of the Chem Communal house. Then, they start the rituals on obtaining water. The three boats must uniformly turn round three times, and when such movements are being carried out, three persons standing on their respective boats must timely use dippers to take water from the river, pour it into the jar and purify it with alum. The whole operation must be completed by the end of the third "turn-around" of the boats. The operation is marked by drum and gong beats and, in particular, by shouts "U oe, u oe" which reverberate on both banks of the river.

According to the village elders, the shouts "U oe" are associated with a legend about Ly Than: The statue of Ly Than, as made on the orders of the Chinese Emperor and put at the entrance of Shen-Yang fortress, was so big that 10 persons could be sheltered in it. When the Mongolian invaders came, these men hidden inside the statue would shout "U oe" and this struck fear into the invaders and would make them withdraw.

After taking water, the three boats sail downstream to Ngu port where the participants disembark and enter the Ma House, that is the house containing cull objects made of wood, bamboo and leaves. Thereafter starts the procession of cull objects comprising, among other things, men-drawn carts and chariots, elephants, horses, to be followed by palanquins carrying dresses, hats and ceremonial palanquins. A bowl of water is put on a palanquin decorated in various colors and carried by four persons. The procession, which proceeds at a pace regulated by the master of ceremony by means of drums and gongs beats, sets for the communal house where is subsequently held a ceremony on giving bath to the statues.

The procession of the funeral oration takes place in the evening. The oration is carried on a royal palanquin from the house of the chief preserver to the communal house, with rituals similar to the procession of cult implements. The road where the procession passes through is provided on both sides with neatly arranged small incense burners which add to the solemnity of the occasion.

The procession is followed by a grand ceremony at the communal house, which is performed by twelve people clad in long blue dresses, wearing hats and bells of Court Officials. After duly washing hands, two of them carry food, drinks and lighted candles into the back chamber, while the whole group comes in, marching through two lines of old villagers who hold and turn round blue and rose pennons. At last, the leader of the ceremony reads the funeral oration amidst a deep silence and the fragrance of burning incense sticks and sandalwood. Among other things, the oration says:

"Your fame as a hero resounds throughout North and South... Your talent is all-sided, political and military, and your posture most dignified... Your ethical behavior towards our nation is above blame".
After that, the festival goes on with such games as duck catching, releasing doves, kite flying, etc./.


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