The Dong Da Festival

On the 5th of every Lunar New Year, many Hanoians go to Dong Da Hill in order to take part in the Dong Da festival, which celebrates a historic victory over the Qing Invaders in 1789.
Dong Da is the place where, more than 200 years ago, Emperor Quang Trung (1788-1802) defeated the 200,000 – strong Qing invading army. On the evening of the 4th and on the 5th of the first lunar month – that is 29-30 January 1789 – the enemy redoubt in Khuong Thuong was overwhelmed by Vietnamese forces. As a result, its Commanding Officer, General Cen Yi Dong, committed suicide, and the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Expeditionary Corps, Gen. Sun Shi Yi, fled the Vietnamese capital in panic for China.
After the battle, there were enemy corpses almost everywhere, in the fields and along the roads. They had to be gathered up and buried in 12 common graves which were so big that they mutated into hills and hillocks from which grew trees. In 1851, as work began on the construction of Nam Dong market, skeletons of enemy troops were found in the area and were gathered for burial in a common grave in Nam Dong village. That is the 13th hillock. The inhabitants of Nam Dong and Thinh Quang villages also built a pagoda, called Dong Quang pagoda, in front of the 13 hillocks. From then on, Dong Quang Pagoda annually organized a religious ceremony to commemorate the Dong Da battle on the 5th day of the Lunar New Year. After the ceremony, there are games such as wrestling, swinging, and cock fighting.
After the liberation of Ha Noi (1954), the City authorities held annual celebrations of the 1789 victory in Dong Da Hillock. Gradually, the commemoration became a festival, involving many games and plays. Most outstanding is the Fire Dragon, a 15m long dragon made of cloth and paper. A group of young men wearing closely-fitted white clothes, with red stripes and belts, and blue puttees, raise the dragon to their heads and perform the dance of the “hovering dragon”. Another group of young men walks around the dragon procession, performing martial arts to show their ability and also to simulate the historic battle. People in the neighbourhood also commemorate the old tactic of using fire to attack the besieged enemy in Khuong Thuong and Dong Da area by burning oil-soaked straw cords and producing fire lines and fire circles. The spectacular result is the image of a dragon pouncing on and belching fire at the enemy.
During the festival, the Dong Quang Pagoda – located opposite to the Dong Da Hillock – also performs religious rites, with large groups of the devout presenting joss-sticks and offerings to the souls of the national heroes, and to the souls of enemy troops killed in the battle as well.
On the same day, a number of people also visit the Boc Pagoda, and present their respects and offerings before the Duc Ong Statue, a statue which, in the view of many, is actually dedicated to Emperor Quang Trung.

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