The Co Loa Festival

Co Loa is a commune belonging to Dong Anh, a suburban district of Ha Noi City. From Ha Noi, we can reach the commune by going along Highway No.l, crossing Chuong Duong Bridge and Cau Duong Bridge, and then following Highway No. 3 for 3 kilometres. On the way, one can see the remains of three layers of concentric ramparts built by King An Difcfng Vuong, alias Thuc Phan, in the second century BC.
The legend of An Duong Vuong – My Chau – Trong Thuy:
In the second century BC, Viet Nam was a country called Au Lac, ruled by King An Duong Vuong whose name prior to his coronation was Thuc Phan. He had only one daughter, whose name was My Chau. The State’s capital was located at Co Loa where the King built a fortress and ramparts. However, whatever was built in the day was subsequently demolished at night by evil spirits. The King held a religious ceremony and begged Heavens for assistance. Thereupon, a golden tortoise came and gave guidance to the King on how to counteract evil spirits. As a result, the fortress and ramparts were completed. In bidding farewell, the golden tortoise presented the King with one of its claws. The King turned the claw into the trigger of his crossbow, a single arrow of which could shoot thousands of enemy troops. The crossbow was thus called as the Magic Crossbow or Tortoise Crossbow.
By then, a rebel Chinese General, Trieu Da (Zhao Tuo), established in Southern China a kingdom called Nam Viet. He tried to conquer Au Lac State, but his attempts ended in failure because of the magic Crossbow. Resorting to an alternative stratagem, Trieu Da sought peace and requested Thuc Phan to give consent to the marriage between Trong Thuy, Trieu Da’s son, and My Chau, Thuc Phan’s daughter. Thuc Phan gave his agreement that Trong Thuy could, as son-in-law, stay in Au Lac Kingdom in keeping with the practice of living with the family of the wife.
Taking advantage of his wife’s deep love and her credulity, Trong Thuy learned the secrets of the magic crossbow. Soon, he sought permission from Thuc Phan to return home for visiting his parents. Upon his departure, Trong Thuy said to his wife, “In case war breaks out between our countries some time in the future, how can I find you?”. His thoughtless wife replied, “I’ve got a coat made of goose feathers. I’ll take them out and scatter them wherever I go”.
Thereafter, Trieu Da launched a new war of aggression against Au Lac. His presumed magic crossbow bred overconfidence and Thuc Phan did not make adequate defence preparation. When enemy troops surrounded the Co Loa fortress, Thuc Phan employed his crossbow to no avail. He barely had time to put his daughter on horseback and ride away at full gallop to the south. When he came near the sea coast, the golden tortoise appeared. The King asked “Oh, Golden Tortoise, why have I lost my Kingdom?” Immediately the Tortoise replied, “Your enemy is just behind you”. As the truth dawned on him, the King drew his sword and killed his daughter, and then followed the golden tortoise into the sea. The sea waves brought the corpse of My Chau to Co Loa; when the villagers brought it ashore it became a big stone which is still kept and worshipped in a small temple near an old banyan tree. Trong Thuy also suffered from the loss of his wife. One day, he came to a well in front of the former palace of King An Duong Vuong. As he saw the face of My Chau on the surface of the water of the well, he plunged into the well to his death. The blood from My Chau’s body, gushed into the sea and was swallowed by oysters and shells and subsequently produced pearls. Popular imagination has it that if the pearls were washed in the water of the well where Trong Thuy died, they would shine even brighter.
Every year, the 12 villages of Co Loa commune join hands in organizing the festival, which usually begin on the 6th of the first lunar month.
Early on the morning of the first day of the first lunar month, 12 notables from each village come to the house of the chief notable in order to prepare for the procession. A band begins the ceremony, followed by the chief notable and the 12 village notables, and then the villagers who carry various offerings to King An Duong Vuong.
A couple of stone horses, one red and one white, with embroidered saddles, stand guard the sides of the outside part of the gate of the King An Duong Vuong temple. The road leading from the gate to the temple is lined with wooden stands for flags and other objects of worship. The palanquins of the 12 villages are placed in a pre-arranged order.
The organizers place a big altar with a glass box containing two gold ear rings and objects of worship in front of the temple. A smaller altar, containing the King’s arms – sword, crossbow and bronze arrows – is set in front of the bigger altar. Beyond it, a number of red-rimmed mats are spread for the religious ceremony.
When the procession reaches the temple, a miniature royal court, containing an incense burner, a stone tablet, and the funeral oration, are put in front of the two altars.
The chief notable officiates at the religious ceremony in honour of the God King amid the sounds of the band. The notables are followed by the inhabitants. All beg the King to bestow peace and prosperity to the villages.
The ceremony lasts until 1 or 2 p.m., and is followed by a general procession, with the participation of all the 12 villages, to honour the King.
Leading the procession are the flags, the Miniature Royal Court and the sacred weapons of the Temple. Then come the band and the village notables clad in traditional Court uniforms and holding the weapons supposedly wielded by the King – sword, crossbow, and arrows.
Then come the notable and inhabitants of the Pagoda hamlet and of each of the 12 villages. They bring their own palanquins, flags and bands. It is quite a long procession, which proceeds slowly amid the sounds of music. Starting from the temple of King An Duong Vuong, the procession passes the Trong Thuy well, and proceeds to the village gate. The contingent which carries the Miniature Royal Court and the royal tablets return to the temple, while the notables and population of the twelve villages proceed to their respective hamlets.
The religious ceremony and the procession end on the same day, that is, January 6, while the festival goes on until the 15th of the same month, featuring traditional games and activities:
– At night, there are fireworks, Ca Tru songs, popular opera plays (cheo) and classical opera plays (tuong).
– During the day, old men play chess and cards, old women perform rites and present offerings at the Pagoda, while young men and women, and children play their own games: wrestling, tugs-of-war, swing, rope climbing, martial arts, shooting from bows and crossbows, flag dancing, human chess (chess games in which human beings are used in place of traditional chess-set), cock- fighting, penny-pitching, and a rice-cooking contest. One ancient game, which consisted in continuous drum┬Čbearing either by pairs of or whole groups of drums, is no longer played.
People from neighbouring communes traditionally come in numbers to Co Loa to participate in the festival, regarding it as both a national festival and spring merry-making.

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