The Lieu Doi Wrestling Festival

Lieu Doi village now belongs to Liem Tuc commune, Thanh Liem district, Ha Nam province. The village usually holds its wrestling contest on the 5th day of the first lunar month.
The Lieu Doi wrestling contest originates from a popular legend about a young man of the village, whose family name was Doan. He was a man of extraordinary strength. One day, the village was suddenly flooded by a storm, causing great panic among the villagers. The young man came and saw that a light emanating from a sword lying on a red piece of cloth. Realizing that this was a sacred sword, he prostrated himself and expressed thanks to the Gods, and then took the sword and the piece of red cloth – which he stuck in his belt – and performed martial arts with the sacred sword, to the delight of the villagers.
Then foreign invaders came, the young man volunteered to fight the enemy. There was in his unit a woman fighter whose family name was Bui. Doan and Bui fell in love with each other, and vowed to get married after victory. Unfortunately, Doan lost his life on the battlefied. His body was buried in his native village. After the enemy’s defeat, Bui came to the village to visit his grave. But she broke down and died instantly on horseback a few hundreds meters from Doan’s grave.
The villagers were moved to tears by the event. They set up a temple to worship Doan whom they called as Thanh Ong (Male God) and another temple to worship Bui from they called Tien Ba (Female God). A wrestling match was held every year to commemorate them. At first, this contest was called the Thanh Tien festival (the Two Gods festival) but was later called the Lieu Doi wrestling festival.
The festival involves the following:
Bringing Thanh Ong to the wrestling place:
This is a procession in which people carry the palanquin of Thanh Ong from his temple to the wrestling ring. An old man, holding a sword, leads the procession by walking backward from the temple down to the wrestling ring. Upon the arrival of the Thanh Ong palanquin, a ceremony is held with offerings including bananas, truncated cone-shaped cookies made of sticky rice, tea poured from ceramic small bottles (usually small ceramic bottles contain liquor, but in this case serving liquor is not arranged as the ceremony involves non-alcoholic drinks).
Setting fire:
The fire symbolizes the bright light emanating from the sacred sword in Nuong Cui. It is required that, to ensure a lucky new year, the fire must be very bright and its flames as high as possible.
Handing over the sword and the piece of red cloth:
This ceremony memorializes Doan. The leader of the festival (an old man, enjoying high prestige in the village, and playing the main drum at the festival) takes the sword and piece of cloth from the palanquin and hands them over to a selected wrestler of the village who holds the sword in his hand while sticking the piece of cloth in his belt.
Flag dancing rally:
Two of four people, each holding a square red flag, approach the palanquin and carry it to the wrestling ring amid the beat of drums, and perform the flag dancing ceremony.
After beating the lead drum—which functions as a signal—it is followed by drums and gong beats in all temples and pagodas. A chorus of shouts arises from the crowd. This ceremony symbolizes the atmosphere of the departure of troops to the frontlines in ancient days.
After all the traditional ceremonies are over, the wrestling contest commences. It is governed by specific rules and forms of Lieu Boi village:
Five starting rounds of wrestling: Two male babies bom on the last day of the old lunar year are required to perform 5 rounds of wrestling in honour of Thanh Ong. As the ostensible wrestlers are still lying in their cradles, their fathers must wrestle on their behalf. But it is a simulated wrestling contest in which no one is knocked down. Any infringement of this rule brings punishment, as the two babies are supposed to be future wrestlers and, therefore, none of them ought to be defeated in this initial contest. If the fathers happen to be absent, the grandfathers must do the wrestling, and if they are unable to do so, then elderly males from the two families should replace them. No one refuses to takes part in the wrestling.
Native wrestlers first: Then comes the real wrestling, first of all, by local wrestlers. This is a must, as it is perceived that the host village must start the game in order to provide encouragement to other.
Then come the turn of wrestlers from other villages, whose rivals can be either from Lieu Boi or other places.
As a rule, wrestlers must expose bare-bodies, wearing only a small piece of loin cloth; they cannot resort to illegal tactics to knock down their opponents.
There are three kinds of prizes. A special prize, to be followed by first, second and third prize. Then comes the festival prize, which is bestowed on all participants, winners and losers alike. This is a “must” as the festival is designed to encourage the enthusiasm of the people for wrestling.

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