The Soc Son Temple Festival

The Soc Son Temple is situated in Ve Linh village, Phu Linh commune which now belongs to Soc Son district, a suburban district of Ha Noi. The temple is dedicated to the Dong God, that is Phu Dong Thien VuOng (see Dong Festival, page 110).
Starting from Ha Noi one can go to Ve Linh village by following Highway N°. 1, cross Chuong Duong and Duong bridges, then turn left and follow Highway N°. 3, cross Phu Lo Bridge and, on reaching Ma Market (located at km 29 of the same highway), turn left again.
The Soc Son temple is surrounded by various mountains: In the ancient past, these mountains were covered with thick forests. The area is also bathed by two rivers: one following from the North-West to the South- East, the other from the West to the South.
The legend says that after defeating the An invaders, hero Dong galloped to Mt. Soc, hung his suit of armour on a sandalwood tree. Then he vanished into the sky with his iron horse.
In commemoration, a festival is held every year in Soc Son temple, involving festivity, the Moc Duc ceremony, the Bamboo flowers procession, the Elephant procession, the Betel plant procession, the Paper boat rituals, capped by the beheading of the enemy commander.
Moc Duc ceremony:
The ceremony is designed to scent and cleanse the statues of the temple. People from two villages (Ve Linh, Phu Ma) put 7 pots of sandalwood in front of the temple, then bum a bundle of incense sticks. Then, as a religious rite, a few persons would perform a dance with the incense sticks in their hands, using a mirror to shed light into the back chamber.
Bamboo flowers procession:
Ten villages from 2 districts (Soc Son, Kim Anh) take part in this procession; priority is given to Ve Linh, Phu Ma, Thanh Lai villages on Soc Son district, while the order of the other villages in the procession is determined by their time of arrival at the assembly place.
After the procession, each village contingent put one artificial bamboo flower on the altar while the rest are thrown into the air so that fellow villagers can chase after them in a free-for-all scramble. Only members of a given village can scramble for the bamboo flowers produced by that village.
This ceremony seems to be related to religious beliefs, the bamboo flower symbolizing the Linga, much like the use of flowers in human fertility ceremonies. Hence the scramble for the bamboo flowers.
Elephant procession:
Three villages contribute to the ceremony. On festival day, villagers from Duoc Thuong village, Tien Duoc commune, bring an elephant made from bamboo to the temple to serve as a cult instrument; at this point the elephant offered last year is burned. The leader of the procession, must find a good piece of white wood, usually the “mo” wood, and on the 5th day of the first lunar month get the people of Phu Hau village to turn that one-metre long piece of wood into two elephant tusks, which are then carried to the temple by 2 unmarried young men, preceded by two palanquins carried by 2 other unmarried young men. On the same day, villagers of An Sao village (Tan Mirth commune) bring two banana trees, as which symbolic food for the elephant to the temple. After the ceremony, the banana trees are planted at the temple.
Betel plant procession:
Women monks, walking in a solemn cortege, carry a betel plant from Tien Duoc village to the temple, as an offering to the mother of the Dong God.
Paper boat ritual:
This ceremony is performed by people of Yen Minh village. Paper boats are brought to the temple, each boat containing dummies holding oars and weapons. After the boats arrive in front of the temple, and the dummies are positioned (by pulling wires) to prostrate in the direction of the altar, the carriers run home as quickly as possible. Then paper boats and dummies are burned. (The carriers have to run away because, according to legend, the dummies represent villagers from Tan Minh hamlet who followed the Dong God in fighting the invaders, as a result, the spirits of these dummies may enter the bodies of the carriers).
Beheading the enemy commanders:
This is a ceremony performed by people of Yen Tang village, Bac Phu commune.
The ceremony originates from the legend which says that the An invaders were led by 28 female commanders (an in the Dong festival held in Ha Noi, An invaders are usually symbolized by 28 girls).
Two unmarried girls, aged 12 to 16, are selected in advance. The girls must, as a rule, have led a pure life throughout the year in anticipation of the event. In the early hours of January 7 (lunar year) the villagers of Yen Tang carry palanquins to the temple, accompanied by the two girls. After the ceremony, the girls are brought to the foot of the mountain where they are placed on a chair. After the leader of the ceremony finishes his prayers, a flag signal is given and, the leg of the chair is struck with a knife. The two girls get off the chair and their relatives carry them home as quickly as possible.

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