The Dong Nhan Village Festival

The Trung Sisters, Vietnamese national heroines who led an uprising against the Han invaders (AD 40- 43), are worshipped not only in Ha Loi village, but also in Dong Nhan village (Hai Ba Trung district, Ha Noi), and in other villages with pagodas built and festivals held in their honour.
The difference lies, however, in the date, and the specific significance of each of the festival: Ha Loi village holds the festival on the 6th day of the 1st lunar month. That is when the two heroines staged the uprising, whereas the Dong Nhan village holds their festival on the 5th day of the 1st lunar month, the date when villagers recovered the statues of the two sisters from the Red River.
Historical account
During the Ly Dynasty, there was a fishing community living in Precinct Bo Cai (which later became Dong Nhan village), on the bank of the Red River. One night, after returning from a fishing trip, each group, as usual, drove a bamboo pole deep into the river bed and tied their boat to it. Yet, that very night, the chief notable dreamt that a spirit told him: “You have driven the pole in the hand of Mother”. The next day, the chief notable summoned all the members of the community and told them about his dream. It was decided to send divers to search the river bed. The divers found two statues. The fishermen tried to recover them from the river, but to no avail. Then, a ceremony was held in order to beg for guidance and assistance from God. Again, the spirit gave his advice: “You must not use ropes. Instead, long red silk bands should be used”. By following this advice, the fishermen recovered the statues of the two Trung Sisters. A pagoda was built, the statues were put in its back chamber, and a festival was held every year to commemorate this important event.
Preparations
Prior to August 1945, the population of Dong Nhan village consisted of four groups, who worked together in looking after the pagoda and providing additional cult instruments. Each year, these groups took turns in contributing labor to the organization of the festival.
The festival is held on the 5th day of the 1st lunar month, but preparation begins on the preceeding 15th of the 12th lunar month, when villagers elect the conductor of the Festival, who is chosen from among heads of harmonious families having both sons and daughters. The selected master then brings offerings to the temple – usually betel and liquor – to seek sanction, by throwing two coins on to a dish. On the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, he again comes to the temple with offerings of glutinous rice and dishes of meat, to perform an additional ceremony.
After celebrating the Lunar New Year, the villagers set about preparing for the festival by electing two bodies:
The preparatory committee has the responsibility to supervise all the preparations, including the appointment of:
+ Two young men who escort the elephants and, for this purpose, must wear red dresses with blue stripes;
+ Twenty old women who lead the procession and offer prayers;
+ Twenty young men who carry the multi-colored flags, the parasols, the drums, gongs and cymbals, and the cult instruments; these young men must wear short red dresses, white pants, blue puttees;
+ Thirty-two people who carry the palanquins and 4 people who carry a jar of water; these 36 people wear long black dresses, white pants, red cloth belts:
+ A musical band.
The ceremony committee has the responsibility to:
+ Check on the cult instruments and other needs of the procession, such as flags, swords, palanquins, (including one palanquin for carrying water), and repair or replace them, if necessary;
+ Check on the state of clothing used for the procession;
+ Receive visitors and guests from other places.
Sequence of the festival
– The 4th day of the 2nd lunar month:
+ Final preparations involving check-up on cult instruments, flags, etc.
+ Prayers and offerings.
– The 5th day of the 2nd lunar month:
+ Red River water procession: This is the Festival’s main event, which is associated with both primitive religious belief about agriculture and the cult of historic personalities.
From 8 a.m., the elephants, palanquins, flags and so on are taken out from the temple. A solemn procession takes place amid drums and gongs beats and prayers of old folks. The procession, which is followed by thousands of people, is also greeted by other inhabitants who line up along the way with their own altars. When the procession reaches the bank of the Red River, one palanquin is put on a waiting boat which is rowed to a p art of the river where there is very clean water. There, clean water is poured into a jar. A part of the water is boiled with santal wood and used to bathe the statues. Two old and virtuous ladies are chosen to bathe the statues and provide them with new clothes. Another part of the water in the jar will be used for ceremonies and rites during the coming year.
The ceremony in honour of the Two Sisters starts as soon as the procession returns to the temple. In some years, the ceremony is performed only by women, from the master down to attendants.
+ Lamp dance: The ceremony is often followed by a lamp dance, a piece of folk culture greatly appreciated by the local population, in which dancers move to the beat of drums. The dance is performed by a group of 10 girls clad in long black dresses with a red belt cloth tied to the panel of the dresses. Each lamp consists of a plate with a burning candle in the middle, surrounded by paper flowers. The dancers, each holding two lamps, glide softly before the altar, either in two rows or in one row, now forming a circle, now forming a different geometrical figure. Sometimes, the two rows intertwine or move opposite to each other in front of the altar. Moving in the light – now dim, now bright – of the candles, the dancers must take care to keep the candles burning throughout the dance while preventing them from burning the surrounding paper shades.
The lamp dance is led by a young man, disguised as a woman of easy virtue. The girl wears a long black dress, white pants, a gauze turban, and carries a small drum decorated with coloured fringes, shoulders and several small flags on her back. The dance leader moves with soft, effeminate movements, while beating rhythmically on a drum to guide the dancers and enliven the performance.
– The 6th day of the 2nd lunar month:
On this day, the inhabitants of Dong Nhan village and of two other villages, Phung Cong, An Duyet – which also have temple dedicated to the Two Sisters – hold a final ceremony and close the door of the temple. The ceremony is followed by a human chess party (in which human beings play the role of traditional chessmen) which continues until the evening.

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