The Lang Festival

The Lang Pagoda now belongs to Dong Da district, Ha Noi. To reach this pagoda, one should, starting from the inner-city of Ha Noi, follow Highway No.11A for 5km to Cau Giay, then turn to Lang road and walk or drive for 2 more kilometres.
This old Pagoda is said to date back to the Ly Dynasty (12th century AD) but its present physiognomy is more recent, dating from the 19th century. As a pagoda with beautiful and romantic scenery, it has been referred to in many literary works of the Vietnamese Romantic School in the 20 century (in To Tam by writer Hoang Ngoc Phach; in Nua chung xuan by writer Khai Hung; in Ganh hang hoa by writer Nhat Linh).
The Lang Festival starts on the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month, which is the beginning of the dry season, and is a common festival of many villages located on both banks of the To Lich river.
The Festival is also connected with Monk Tu Lo, alias Tu Dao Hanh.
Classical history books say that Tu Lo, alias Tu Dao Hanh, was a Buddhist monk who led a religious life in a Pagoda in Thay mountain (also called Phat Tich or Sai Son mountain, Quoc Oai district, Ha Tay province), and also practised magic. On his death (1116), he reincarnated himself as Duong Hoan, the son of the King’s brother. Later, Duong Hoan became King Ly Than Tong (1116-38).
Tu Dao Hanh passed away in the 6th lunar month of 1116 but the Lang Festival, held in his honour, takes place in the 3rd lunar month, presumally because he was bom on the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month, and also to provide an opportunity for merry-making to young men and women during the fair, dry Spring weather.
Local legends add some strange and mythical details about the life of Tu Dao Hanh: Tu Dao Hanh’s father, Tu Vinh, was a local inhabitant of Lang area, while his mother hailed from a village on the other bank of the river (now Yen Hoa village, alias Giay village).
Being fond of beautiful women, Tu Vinh fell in love with the wife of Dien Thanh Hau of Vong village. He therefore used magic to make himself invisible and sneak into the lady’s room and tease her. The lady who felt that at night something heavy was weighing on her belly, notified her husband of her anxiety. Her husband sought the assistance of magician Dai Dien. Dai Dien instructed the young lady to put a long piece of coloured thread on her belly and to immediately tie it up when she felt something weighing heavily on her. The instructions were followed strictly and Tu Vinh was caught. As he was unable to get away from the knot he had to reappear as a cockroach. Then, Dai Dien came and told the cockroach, “If you reappear in your real form, I will forgive you”. Tuf Vinh immediately reappeared as a human being, but Dai Dien, swallowing his promise, cut Tu Vinh into 3 pieces and threw his remains into the To Lich river. The head of the corpse drifted along the river to Moc village, the legs to Lu Cau village, and the body to Phap Van village, and were recovered and buried by the local villagers. Later, because the spirit of Tu Vinh helped the local villagers in many ways, these 3 villages built pagodas to worship Tb Vinh. This gave rise to a popular saying: “Moc village worship the head, Lu Cau village the legs, and Phap Van village the body”.
Tu Dao Hanh, as he grew up, made up his mind to avenge his father. Having duly learned the magic arts, he went one day to the bank of the river in order to test his supernatural powers. He threw his stick into the river. The stick then flew from Cong Cot to Giay village and Vong village. Onlookers, including Dai Dien, flocked in their thousands to get a glimpse of the flying stick. The stick thereupon pounced on Dai Dien and hit him on the head. Covering his wounded head with his hand, Dai Dien ran to his house and died immediately on arrival there. The place where Dai Dien was hit by the stick is now called the “Hit Alley” (Ngo Vut). Thereafter, Vong village erected a temple to worship Dai Dien at the very place where he was buried. It was called the Thanh To Temple.
Subsequently, Tu Dao Hanh embraced Buddhism, and went to Thay pagoda to lead a religious life there. He died in the same Pagoda.
As different from the classical annals, the people in Lang village believe that Tb Dao Hanh died as a monk who reached enlightenment on the 26th day of the 9th lunar month. They used to perform a ceremony accompanied by a vegetarian food offering on that day, while ordinary food, including meat is offered on the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month, his birthday, as he was then a common human being.
The Thay village, where the monk reached enlightenment, also holds a festival on his birthday, the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month.
Historical Relics
1. The Lang Pagoda, also called “Ca” (Elder) Pagoda, is said to date back to the reign of King Ly Anh Tong (1138- 75), and later became a scenic spot of Thang Long, the royal capital. The pagoda contains a painted rattan statue of Td Dao Hanh and a statue of King Ly Than Tong.
2. The Nen Pagoda, which is said to have been built on the foundation of the former house of Td Vinh, now contains two statues of Td Vinh and his wife put at the same place.
3. Dich Vong village still has the Thanh To Temple, where Dai Dien is worshipped, and a alley called the “Hit Alley”, a small street located to the North of the temple and connecting the temple with the bank of the To Lich river.
At the entrance of the same village, is the Hoa Lang Pagoda (alias Ba Lang village) where the mother of Td Dao Hanh is worshipped. The Pagoda is said to have been built on the land where the old lady was buried.
4. Moc village originally had the Tam Huyen pagoda, which was dedicated to Tu Vinh. The Pagoda was destroyed during the anti-French war, and there remain a few columns and the gate in the compound of the Ha Noi Engineering Factory.
5. Former Tay Duong bridge is now Cau Giay area, and former Yen Quyet bridge is now Cong Cot area.
6. Both Lang and Thay villages hold the Festival on the same day and month. While the festival in Thay village does not involve a fight between geniuses, it is credited with the water puppet shows which, along with the folk theatrical plays (cheo), are said to have been created by Tu Dao Hanh.
The Lang Festival
Lang village does not hold a festival every year, but once every 15 years.
Preparations for the festival start at the end of the 2nd lunar month, and involves the following: village notables appoint the leader of the ceremonies and the official participants thereof; villagers clean and put the pagodas in order; young people prepare signal firecrackers, sky┬Črocket firecrackers, ordinary firecrackers, etc., to be used during the fight between geniuses; old folks prepare trays of offerings and try to make them as tidy as possible; and the girls get their clothing ready for the occasion.
In particular, Ong Lenh, the leader of the procession, gathers a required number of carriers who are divided into 2 groups. The first group, comprising 18 people, must wear mourning clothes (signifying deep mourning for Tu Vinh, the father of Tu Dao Hanh) and carry the palanquin from the Lang Pagoda (alias Ca Pagoda) to Cong Cot and across the To Lich river. The second group would carry the palanquin from the other bank of To Lich river to the Hoa Lang Pagoda (alias Ba Lang village) where a ceremony is held and, then, carry it back to the river bank. As the trip is rather long, the second group must comprise 36 carriers (18 main marriers, 18 reserves).
On the 5th day of the 3rd lunar month, a procession escorts the palanquin of Tu Dao Hanh to Nen Pagoda (so that they may visit his native place), and on the 6th day of the 3rd lunar month to Tam Huyen Pagoda (so that he may visit his father). On these two occasions, the palanquins does not carry Tu Dao Hanh’s statue, but only his tablet.
The 7th day of the 3rd lunar month is the main day of the Festival. On the evening of the 6th day of the 3rd lunar month, Tu Dao Hanh’s statue is brought into an octagonal building (reconstructed in the 19th century) so that the Genius can witness the Flower Presenting Ceremony. This ceremony is a dance performed by 10 girls carrying a paper flower at the back of their hand and in their palms a burning candle; the dance proceeds around Tu Dao Hanh’s statue, to the accompaniment of music. The girls are clad in colourful traditional dresses, red gauze turbans, black satin skirts and their hair buns are arranged to look like the tail of cocks.
Early in the morning of the 7th day of the 3rd lunar month, three rounds of drum beats resound, accompanied by firecrackers. The palanquin carrying Tu Dao Hanh’s tablets is taken out of the pagoda and stops for a while at the gate to wait for the palanquin carrying the tablet of his father, Tu Vinh. The latter has come from Moc, so that father and son may go and visit the mother.
When everyone is present, the procession proceeds to the highway. This is considered the religious procession most typical of the Red River Delta in the old days.
The procession is preceded by a myriad of flags: first, two ceremonial flags woven from silk threads (but purported to be made from the tail hair of a rhinoceros), then 5 brocade flags made of various colours, then 4 red woolen flags each of which feature one of the four sacred animals: dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix. The flags are carried by young men clad in traditional military costumes – short conic hats, close-fitting blue dresses, tight pants.
The flags are followed by drums and gongs. The main drum is carried by two persons. The drum chief walks behind the main drum and regularly beats it. A man accompanies him, holding a parasol over his head. Behind the main drum is the main gong which is also carried by two persons, with the gong chief covered by a parasol. Each drum beat is immediately followed by a gong beat.
Then come an elephant and a horse, with two escorts carrying a gilded wooden scimitar and a spear. They are followed by 4 people carrying 4 golden parasols, which are specific symbols of the King. Then comes a group of guards – young men carrying gilded wooden temple weapons such as spears, scimitar, and sticks.
They are followed by two young men, disguised as girls of easy virtue. Each carries a small drum, hitting it while walking and making eyes at the spectators. Then comes the leader of the procession, a man clad in traditional clothing and hat, holding a brocade flag with one big embroidered word “Order”. He is covered by a big parasol. Marching behind him is a band that plays folk tunes.
At last comes the Royal Palanquin which is carried by 18 men, who wear melon-shaped hats, red loincloths, yellow towels, a bag of betel leaves and areca nuts hanging on their hips and, on their shoulder, a fan to protect them against the scorching sun. Walking behind the palanquin are the notables in ceremonial dresses and old men and women, all of them reciting prayers and telling their beads.
Thus, the procession proceeds toward Cot village, and then Vong Tien village. It stops in front of the Thanh To Temple – dedicated to Dai Dien – at the very moment when Vong Tien villagers take the latter’s palanquin to the shelter, which is a well surrounded by a wall in front of the temple. Then, a symbolic fight between the 2 geniuses takes place.
The onlookers, who follow the battle with interest and emotions, make the scene even more tumultuous with their shouts and exhortations. The battle ends after half an hour. Then, the procession escorting Tu Dao Hanh’s palanquin continues its march to Ba Lang Pagoda. On arrival, all the flags bearers must stand outside the gate, while the palanquin and its royal parasol enter the pagoda yard and stop in front of the worship house. Standing behind the palanquin, in order of precedence, are village notables, old folks, palanquin carriers, weapons holders and members of the band who will perform a new ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the Leader of the procession takes the string of beads stored in the palanquin and go into the back chamber in order to report to Lord Buddha. Afterwards he comes back and puts the strings of beads on the neck of Tu Dao Hanh’ statue. This gesture means that Lord Buddha has graciously agreed to Tu Dao Hanh becoming a Buddhist deity. Thus ends the ceremony relating to Tu Dao Hanh’s visit to his mother. By midday, the procession returns to Lang Pagoda.

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