Khe Thuong Festival

Khe Thuong village belongs to Son Da commune, Ba Vi district, Ha Tay province. It is about 10 km far from the Tan Vien Mountain.
Tan Vien is the God of Mountain. Legend has it that the legendary King Hung 18th (three thousand years ago) had a beautiful girl, princess My Nuong. One day, he had a contest held to select a worthy husband for the princess. Tan Vien became the winner and thus got married to My Nuong. His rival, Thuy Tinh or God of Waters, got irritated and waged a war against him as God of Mountains. However, one again, Tan Vien became the winner. Since then, he has been venered by the Viet people as a Patron-Saint.
The Khe Thuong village festival in honour of Saint Tan Vien is held in spring time. On (lunar) New Year’s Eve, the villagers conduct the ceremony of “ferrying the Saint across the Da river to the Nghia Linh Mountain in Phu Tho province to visit his father-in-law, King Hung 18th”. To start the ceremony, the village notables and elders, in ceremonial attire, conduct the sacrificial ritual at the village communal house and then, carry the ritual objects (weapons, palanquins, flags, banners, worship tablets, etc.) to the wharf where they will see off the Saint.
The boatman must be a healthy and virtuous villager. He is required to keep to a vegetarian diet for weeks before the ceremony.
To the accompaniment of drums and gongs, the boatman drives a small empty boat three times back and forth between Khe Thuong village, Ha Tay province, and Bo village, Phu Tho province, so as to “ferry the Saint himself and his big entourage.”
The village festival truly starts on the 2nd day of the 1st lunar month. In late afternoon, the villagers carry again the ritual objects from the communal house to the ferry, where the altar for the Saint is placed facing the wharf on the other side of the Da river. At midnight, the boatman drives the boat three times back and forth, starting from the other wharf. This symbolic action is suggestive of the return of the Saint and his entourage.
The festival lasts up to the 7th day of the 1st lunar month with a variety of ceremonies, rituals and entertainments, especially folk games. Noteworthy are “wrestling-in-honour- of-the-Saint” and “slashing-for-good-luck”.
The wrestling is intended to represent the legendary rivalry between the God of Mountains (Saint Tan Vien) and the God of Waters (Thuy Tinh), and to promote the traditional martial art of the local population.
The “slashing-for-good-luck” ceremony is organized on the 7th day. The performers are selected from the young men of the village. They must come from happy families, be virtuous and not in mourning. They spend a lot of time training themselves in using the long chin knife whose length is nine times the width of an adult’s palm.
The young performers, in red loin-cloths and red turbans, rally at the communal house where a number of banana tree trunks of the same size are placed on end, at a distance of three metres from one to another. The performers are invited to the central altar to pay homage to the Saint.
Then, they start the “slashing” ceremony with some peculiar dances performed to the exciting drum-beats and the viewers’ cheers. With lightning speed, they brandish their knives and slash the banana trunks as skillfully as possible to ensure that the cut is smooth and only the upper part of the trunk falls down. Smooth slashes are regarded as good omens for the New Year.
The ceremony is suggestive of the life-or-death battle between the army of the Mountain God (Tin Vien) and that of the Water God (Thuy Tinh), as narrated in legend.
Note that a festival in honour of Saint Tan Vien’s wife, princess My Nuong, is held at the same time in Vi and Treo villages on the other bank of the Da river, which belong to Phu Tho province. Its highlight is the performance of bach nghe khoi hai (lit: Comedy on one hundred crafts) drawing a lot of participants.

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