The Yen Tu Pagoda Festival

The Huong Pagoda Festival, very popular in the Red River Delta, takes place at the same time as another festival, the Yen Tu Pagoda festival (from the 15th day of the 1st lunar month until the 15th day of the 3rd lunar month) held in Quang Ninh, a border province.
Yen Tu is the name of a 1,068 meter high mountain, some 15 km to the northwest of Uong Bi, the capital of Quang Ninh province. As is well-known, it was the birth place of Truc Lam, a Buddhist sect founded by Viet Nam’s King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308).
Y§n Tut has a beautiful scenery but is very difficult to access, with a myrial of brooks, steep slopes, deep abysses, and small winding lanes leading, through forest of fir trees, to its cloudy top.
The first scenic spot one comes across is the Suoi Tam brook, where King Tran Nhan Tong, on the way to Yen Tut mountain from the capital, stopped to take a bath to get rid of all the dust from the world’s human beings.
Not far from Suoi Tam, is the Cam Thuc Pagoda where the King had his first vegetarian meal. It consisted of plan rice cooked with the water in the brook and vegetables gathered on the spot. Going further, one sees the Lan Pagoda (now, an imposing zen monastery – Ed.) with, among other things, a dozen stupas and some stelae. After crossing the Elephant Pass, one reaches the “Clearing Unjust Charges” Pagoda, located near a brook bearing the same name. The Pagoda and the brook are associated with a legend which has it that: When King Tran Nhan Tong left the throne for Yen Tu mountain, a number of royal maids volunteered to accompany him. Arriving at this place, he ordered them to return home. To show their faithfulness to the King, the maids jumped into the brook. Some drowned, while many others were saved by the local population and settled down in the region. As a result, Nuong village was set up (which now is part of Thuong Yen Cong commune). The King was deeply moved and organized a ceremony to “clear unjust charges” toward the dead. To the same end, a Pagoda was established near the brook.
A lane leads the visitor to the Hon Ngoc (Emerald) garden where there is the Main Stupa. It reportedly contains the ashes of King Tran Nhan Tong. The 10 m high Main Stupa has 6 levels, and its lower basement is made of large pieces of stones with bas-relief sculptures in the pattern of sea waves. Its base has the form of a 102- petal lotus flower cup upon which is a stupa that thins as it ascends. At a higher level, the stupa has a door which open to the South, and shows a Statue of King Tran Nhan Tong, clad in a monk robe with his right shoulder laid bare sitting in deep meditation. Tran Nhan Tong’s white stone statue is supported by a stone base covered with sculptural designs in the form of a dragon. The Main Stupa is located on a square land area, (13m x 13m) and surrounded on four sides by 2m high walls made of overbaked bricks, with outer edges in the shape of sea waves. The southern and northern parts of the wall have vaulted doors, and the road leading from the northern door to the mountain top is paved with large square bricks, with decorative designs in the form of chrysanthemum flowers and concentric circles. Outside the walls are 44 other stupas dedicated to 44 members of the Tran Royal family who have led a religious life to the end in Yen Tu pagoda area.
Behind the Main Stupas in the Hoa Yen pagoda whose base is higher than that of the former by 7 or 8 metres. It lies among big old fir trees and the fragrance of forests. It was built during the Ly Dynasty and its Chief Monk was later appointed as Teacher of a Crown Prince. The new name, Hoa Yen, was a product of the Ly Dynasty. It was initially a very big pagoda, comprising several main buildings, provided with bell and drum towers, living quarters for monks and for guests, a “predestination” shrine (Am Thien Dinh) and more. Later, it fell into ruins. The present Hoa Yen Pagoda is built on the old foundations but it is much smaller, comprising an antechamber and a back chamber, and s dedicated to the three founders of the Truc Lam sect (Tran Nhan Tong, Phap Loa and Huyen Quang). It is still regarded as one of the main pagodas in the Yen Tu area, and one of the centres of the yearly festival. It has a number of statues. That of Tran Nhan Tong, the biggest, is placed right in the centre of the back chamber.
Behind the Hoa Yen Pagoda is a bamboo garden and a Stupa built 800 years ago with enamel bricks whose colour has not faded with the passage of time. By following the right slope of the mountain from the Pagoda, one reaches the Ngu Doi brook (where King Tran Nhan Tong bathed) and then the Cloudy Shrine (Van Am) where the King died in peace. With its back to the mountain, the Shrine, which lies amidst pine and bamboo trees, looks down on the sea.
Going further, one comes across the “One-roof” Pagoda, also dedicated to the founded of Truc Lam sect. It was which is built inside a cave with one roof erected outside. From here, a winding lane would lead the visitor to the Bao Sai Pagoda which is near a beautiful cave, provided with stalactites and stalagmites and a very small, limpid brook. To the west of Bao Sai pagoda are the ruins of the Vong Tien pagoda, the base of its altar lying among old pine trees. Not far from Van Tien pagoda, is the nine-level Vong Tan Stupa, which has an original structure and a sprie.
From here, access becomes much more difficult. Steep slopes facing deep abysses, stones piled on one another in disorder. If the visitor manages to cross the Truc pass full of orchid flowers, he or she will see a 2-metre statues-like piece of stone. This by report, is the statue of An Ky Sinh, a person who, one thousand years ago, learned and practised martial arts in this mountain. Past this statue is a Buddhist stele (with an inscription in Pali) and the Dong Pagoda, the highest location in the Yen Tu mountain. From here, one can view a wide panorama of this region, the mountains, the rivers and the human settlements. It is rumoured that any time the bell rings in Dong Pagoda, clouds and rains will follow. The story, perhaps, means to illustrate the height of the Yen Tu mountain, which seems to touch the clouds. Living in such an environment, a person may feel that he or she is divorced from the world of human beings.

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