Hon Chen Temple Festival

On the left bank of Huong (Perfume) River in Hue is the location of Hai Duong Commune, Huong Tra District. About 10 kilometres from the central city there stands Ngoc Tran Mountain. According to the former administrative system, this mountain was in Hai Cat Village, Long Hoa Canton. It is called Ngoc Tran (Jade Cup) because there is a cup-shaped hollow atop atop the mountain. Rainwater contained in it is as limpid as jade. Hence its popular name Hon Chen (Cup Mount).
A long time ago there was a temple of the Cham people on the mountainside. During the reign of King Gia Long (1802 – 1820), the temple was recognized by the court, and under the Dong Khanh reign, the emperor ordered grand repairs, named it the Hue Nam Temple and conferred the title Mother Goddess of Thien Y A Na on the deity worshipped there. This Goddess has her origins in Cham culture. Thien Y A Na is a transcription of the name Po Yang Ino Nagar (Mother of the Homeland). According to Cham beliefs, the Goddess has created land, trees, rice plants, com. However, for quite a long time, the Cham Goddess has shifted into the Thanh Mau (Holy Mother) of the Vietnamese people.
How long has this temple been in existence? Nobody knows exactly, but it is only known that until the 16th century, it was recorded in the book o chau can luc compiled by Duong Van An in 1555 that “Y A Na Temple is in Khuat Pho Commune, Kim Tra District. Legend has it that she is a holy Goddess”. Hence, at least in the 16th century, the temple dedicated to this Cham Goddess was already set up. (Kim Tra was the old name of Huong Tra).
On settling down there, the Vietnamese found in the local culture the cult of the Holy Mother (representing fertility or creativity) which shared many common features with the Vietnamese cult of Mother Goddesses.
Gia Long, the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty, conferred on this goddess of the Cham origin the title of “Hong Nhan Pho Te Linh ung Thuong dang than” (Miraculous Supreme Divinity, Great Saviour of the People). In 1832, King Minh Mang ordered to repair and enlarge the temple and conferred on it the title “Thuong dang linh than” (Miraculous Supreme Deity). During the reign of King Tu Duc, the title “Thuong dang toi linh than” (Extremely Miraculous Supreme Deity) was conferred on the goddess. In the reign of King Dong Khanh (1886), the temple was renovated and became more spacious, with more objects of worship. It was renamed Hue Nam Dien (“Hue Nam” means ‘bestowing a favour on Viet Nam, and the yearly rituals there were upgraded to national rank). King Dong Khanh acclaimed himself as the “disciple of the Holy Mother”. Twice a year dignitaries were assigned by the court as officiants for the ceremonies, but one ceremony a year, held on the occasion of the spring offering ceremony (around February). In the 3rd year of King Duy Tan’s reign (1890), she was conferred the title “Thien Y A Na Ngoc Dien Phi Toi cao dang than”.
Naturally, during the transformation from a goddess of the Cham to the Vietnamese Holy Mother, the name Po Yang Ino Nagar became Holy Mother Thien Y A Na. Confucian scholars were mobilized to make full use of the traditional legends on her miraculous power so as to incorporate the indigenous goddess into the Vietnamese pantheon and draw more admiration and reverence from the people. In regard to this, the stone stele inscription composed by Phan Thanh Gian in 1856 contains the related legend collected from Dai An Mountain (Khanh Hoa). Research on the two orations in honour of the Goddess: Van Ba (in Thap Ba, Nha Trang) and Co thap linh tich (in Hon Chen Temple) reveals that there are differences in some details, but in the main content both of them are based on the above-mentioned inscription.
In Dai Nam nhat thong chi (Records on Unified Viet Nam), the part Thua Thien province, says: “On the side of Ngoc Tran Mountain in Huong Tra District stands Ngoc Tran Temple, also known as Ham Long Temple, which is dedicated to Goddess Thien Y A Na Dien Phi Chua Ngoc and Than Thuy Long (Water Dragon God). In fact, Hon Chen Temple is not only dedicated to the two above deities but also many other deities, including two assistants of Mother Goddess Thien Y A Na (Water God or Thuy Long and Mountain God or Son Trung). Later, “Luc vi ton than” (six deities: three water gods and three mountain gods) were added to the pantheon of Hue Nam Temple.
Hon Chen Temple is also dedicated to Buddha, and over one hundred other deities considered as the disciples of the above gods. Since 1954, Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh has also been worshipped there. Therefore, through historical upheavals, Hon Chen was gradually turned from a temple for worshipping a Cham goddess into a polytheistic temple. Naturally, the most venerated deity who was conferred the most titles by the court here is Mother Goddess Thien Y A Na. That is also the difference between Hon Chen Temple and Ba (Lady) Temple in Nha Trang, even though both of them are dedicated to the same deity of the same origin.
Another noteworthy thing here is that the temple’s architectural structure is decorated with the image of phoenix on the gables and even on the worship objects. The phoenix is a symbol of women because the temple worships a goddess.
Every year, on the occasion of the spring sacrifice¬offering ceremony (first ten days of the 2nd lunar month), tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Hon Chen Temple.
The ceremony is conducted at Minh Kinh Platform, facing the Perfume river. It is divided into three sections. The first section (Upper Shrine), is for Goddess Thien Y A Na, Goddess Lieu Hanh, and some other deities. The second section (General Shrine) is for dozens of various deities including the Buddha, where the ritual objects for the temple’s processions are displayed. The third section (Front Shrine), with incense-tables, and drum and bell on both sides, is where the official ceremony takes place and where pilgrims make votive offerings. Apart from the ceremonies popular for many other temples, Hon Chen Fetival has a fairly unique procession to carry the Mother Goddess statue from Hue Nam Temple to Hai Cat Communal House. The procession is solemnly conducted on the bang (a big raft made up of many boats linked together). The numerous bang cover the entire section of the Perfume river, extending from the Hon Chen Temple to Hai Cat Village, where there is the communal house. It is enlivened by myriads of lights, lamps, candles, decorative flags and banners, and the cheers of the participants.
The procession is headed by a bang that carries the altar along with the Holy Mother’s palanquin and the container of royal diplomas of honours conferred on Her by Kings.
Next comes another bang that carries the altar, palanquins and container of royal diplomas for Mountain Goddess and Water Goddess.
Then come other bang carrying worshipping objects such as parasols, flags and banners, shamans and their assistants, service personnel and pilgrims. When the procession departs, mediumistic seance begins on the bang having the altar for the Holy Mother. It lasts until the procession has reached Hai Cat Village.
On the bank, the people and an octet are waiting for the procession. They accompany the palanquins up to the communal house in the light of torches.
In the communal house, under the direction of the chief officiant, a ceremony is started in honour of the deity. Then, performances of ritual songs and mediumistic seances take place throughout the night.
The next morning, the main ceremony is performed in the communal house. And in the afternoon, they conduct the ceremony of seeing the deities off. The palanquins are solemnly carried back to the Hue Nam temple in the same order as on the previous night.
The official festival lasts for only one day and one night. Yet, prior to and after that day, devout followers of this cult come here to make votive offerings.

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