The Phu Giay Festival

There is a Vietnamese saying: We have the Fathers’ festival in the 8th lunar month, and the Mothers’ festival in the 3rd lunar month. The Mother’s festival is held in Phu Giay Temple which is dedicated to a female genius, Lieu Hanh.
The Phu Giay temple is located in Kim Thai commune, Vu Ban district, Nam Birth province. From Nam Dinh town, one can reach Phu Giay by travelling by car for 15 km along Highway 10. It can also be reached by train: Goi Station is 14 km away from Nam Binh town, and from there one should walk two kilometres more.
The Phu Giay festival is held every year from the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month.
The Phu Giay temple is a large cluster of historical monuments comprising two main temples located in Van Cat and Tien Huong villages, and a network of surrounding temples. The temples built several hundred years ago were small, and the yearly festivals, lasting for several days, attracted only a modest number of visitors. But since the beginning of the 20th century, the temples have expanded and the ceremonies have become more elaborate. An increasing number of visitors now flock to the festivals.
The Van Cat temple was built in 1907 in accordance with national architectural patterns. Its columns, beams, bars and rafters are decorated with sculptures representing dragons and phoenixes. In front of the temple is a pond whose banks are paved with pentagonal stones that support rows of stone balustrades. In the middle of the pond is a small 4-roof house, open on 4 sides, decorated with beautiful stone emblems and surrounded by a row of stone balustrades. This temple has become the main venue of the festival.
In 1927, the temple in Tien Huong village was rebuilt and became even more attractive than the Van Cat one. It also has, opposite to its front gate, a semi-circular pond with hexagonal paved banks supporting stone balustrades and railings decorated with dragon patterns on paths leading to the interior parts of the pond. Beyond the pond, are three 4-roof buildings on high foundations: their beams and rafters are decorated with elaborate and beautiful dragon and phoenix patterns. Thanks to its landscape and its imposing and attractive structures, the Tien Huong Pagoda has become the main worship centre to which pilgrims and visitors flock.
Both temples are architecturally attractive, but the main attraction for pilgrims and visitors is admiration for the cult of Princess Lieu Hanh, commonly referred to as Princess Lieu.
According to a legend, she was initially a maid in the Palace of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heavens. After accidentally breaking a beautiful jade glass, she was exiled to the World of Human Beings. She was reborn as the daughter of Le Thai Cong in Van Cat village. She grew into a most beautiful girl, with talent in poetry and music. She married a person named Tran Dao Lang. They had a happy married life and she became well-known for her piety to her parents-in-law. Yet, 3 years later, on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month she suddenly died, without falling ill, at age 21. Thereafter, she often re-appeared in the form of a beautiful woman visiting various temples and scenic spots, now and then in Lang Son, Ha Noi or Thanh Hoa province, creating mischiefs among students and scholars. The people took fright. As a result, they set up a temple dedicated to her. Subsequently, she help King Le Du Tong (1715-29) in the war against the Champa Kingdom and the King gave her the rank of Princess Lieu Hanh. Early in the 19th century, the Nguyen Dynasty elevated her to the rank of “Mother of the Nation”.
For the last century, hundreds of thousands of people from various provinces have flocked to the yearly festival in Phu Giay. In the old days, the honorary chairman of the festival used to be the District Officer or the Governor of the province.
Each village contributes 20 to 30 young men, each of whom carry a 2-metre profusely decorated bamboo stick for “stick play”. These young men with their coloured sticks stand and form four Chinese characters “Mau Nghi Thien Ha” (A woman whose virtue makes her the mother of the nation).
The same young men also play an important role in processions escorting “the Mother” to Pagodas. On the 5th day of the 3rd lunar month, “the Mother” is escorted from Van Cat Temple to Dan pagoda, and on March 6, from Tien Huong Temple to Goi Pagoda. Each procession involves scores of lacquered and gilded palanquins, each carried by 8 people. The palanquins proceed slowly, then very rapidly (and are subsequently called “flying palanquins”). A group of old women walks, holding a long piece of cloth high above their head. It is called “the bridge” for geniuses and spirits to travel. They are followed by young men and women clad in colourful traditional clothes and hats holding burning incense sticks. Along with thousands of other participants, these young people walk while dancing and chanting loudly. The number of participants causes each procession to spread over one or two kilometres.
The 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month is the anniversary of the death of Princess Lieu Hanh, “the Mother”. In old days, the anniversary was marked by a ceremony performed by the local notables and chaired by the District Officer. It was a most solemn ceremony, and the participants wore traditional dresses of court officials. The atmosphere, the attire and gestures of the participants made onlookers feel the Imperial Court was being re¬enacted. The altar was full of offering, among them roasted beef and buffalo meats, rice pies. A second anniversary ceremony was added, performed solely by girls in their twenties.
The Festival also involves many traditional games, popular with visitors. The “human chess” game is a favourite, with girls playing the role of the chess-men: one team comprises girls wearing green turbans, and the other has girls wearing red turbans.
The conclusion of the Festival is celebrated with fireworks.
The Phu Giay Festival attracts people in many parts of the country because of the legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, the rebuilt temples with their beautiful architectural designs and also because most Vietnamese traditional games are found there.

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