Giong Festival is celebrated annually to commemorate the mythical hero Saint Giong, who was praised for defending the country by defeating the foreign aggressors. Saint Giong Is one of four Im-mortals of Vietnamese folk beliefs.
Giong Festival contains worship rites of national hero, and also considers as an overall epical performance with the large scale. This is a summarization of memories of legend, belief, rite, space, text. The festival symbolizes, codes at the same time uncodes Saint Giong legend to convey a culture idea of Vietnamese that is heroism and patriotism. Through the festival, Saint Giong story is showed vividly expressing the great spiritual values of Vietnamese.
Giong festivals are held in many localities In Red River Delta region. The festivals are several but unified in content, theme, and they reflect vividly the legends of Saint Giong. Of which, the most typical ones are Giong Festival at Phu Dong Temple (Phu Dong Commune, Gia Lam District, Hanoi), where Saint Giong was born, and Giong Festival at Soc Temple (Phu Linh Commune, Soc Son District, Hanoi), where Saint Giong flied to heaven. According to folk culture researchers, two Giong festivals are completed and more meaningful than the other ones. The rites in the festival contain mystery and vitality of a legend associated with national pride of Vietnamese. Along with Giong Festival, these localities also preserve worship sites, epitaphs and folk stories about the hero - Giong.
Giong Festival is considered as a living museum of folk beliefs and performing arts. The customs and rites in Giong Festival exist a moral and ideological philosophy which rooted in the community life of the Red River Delta. Giong Festival contains extremely plentiful and precious cultural values of Vietnamese in particular and the humanity in general; creative values with humanity level to express aspiration of prosperous life for the community, peace and national independence. With these meanings, on 16 November 2010,in Nairobi City (capital of Kenya), in the 5th meeting of Inter-government of UNESCO, Giong Festival at Phu Dong and Soc temples were officially inscribed on representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Legend about Saint Giong
The legend said that thousands years ago, under the reign of King Hung VI, in Phu Dong Village (Gia Lam District), there was an old couple, they got married for a long time but still did not have any children.
One day, when the wife went to the rice field, she saw a huge footprint on the ground and she tried to tread her feet on the footprint. Magically, after that she got pregnant. They waited happily for their child. But after twelve months, she gave birth to a boy. They looked after him carefully so he was strong and grew quickly. However, when the boy was three years old, he did not speak, laugh or cry.
When hearing a general's appeal to look for people who could help king expel Yin invaders out of the country, the boy suddenly begin to say and ask an iron horse, an iron stick and an iron armor to push the invaders. From that, the boy grew up quickly.
When Yin invaders arrived, the boy had become a strong man, he wore the armor, took the stick and rode the horse to go out to battle. When the iron stick was broken, he pulled out a clump of bamboo trees and used it as a weapon to continue fighting. The aggressors were too scared that they had to run away. After pushing the invaders out of the country, the hero and his horse went to the top of Soc Mountain and fly to the heaven.
To commemorate merit of the hero, King Hung VI conferred the hero as Phu Dong Thien Vuong. People also honored him as Saint Giong, and celebrate the festival every year to educate moral "When drinking water, remember the source" and national pride for next generations.
Outstanding Values of Giong Festival
The global outstanding value of Giong Festival is a cultural activity preserved and handed continuously through generations to generations. Initially, Giong Festival is only village festival, but since King Ly Thai To (1009 - 1028) chose Thang Long as the capital, Giong Festival was held methodically, large scale with rites bolding court feudalism. Over the historical volatility, Giong Festival still exists in-dependently and sustainably, as well as preserves relatively intact core values. Giong Festival has the role of associating community by using images of national hero, a legendary Saint to associate villages, communes each other. The participation of community in the festival shows passion, sense of conservation, preservation and promote of the unique values of the age-old festival.
Especially, in Gia Lam and Soc Son, the local people have high sense in preserving ancient document about regulations of organizing Giong Festival. Typically, the epitaphs record the sacrifice offerings which must be presented in the festival, there are gio hoa tre, models of voi tran (elephant), nga voi (elephant's tusk), co voi (elephant grass), trau cau (betel and areca) at Bia Mountain (Soc Son)...; assign tasks of preparing sacrifice rites for each village... The regulations are always ob-served voluntarily by the people in the villages. This is also evidence of elements of people for the festival - which UNESCO always requires in intangible cultural her-itage title registration dossier.
Just like Soc Son, Phu Dong villagers (Gia Lam) still keep so hoi le (a note book of village's festival regulation) which states regulations to organize the festival such as: the time, the steps to practice; explain meaning, part of roles In the festival (Masters, Red Shirt village, Black Shirt village, Ai Lao Guild...), accompanied by strict regulations of costume, age, rituals way.
About art value, Giong Festival brings many unique beauties expressing in pro-cessions, flags, drums, folk performances, tiger dance...
Giong Festival at Phu Dong Temple
The Giong Festival at Phu Dong Temple is held annually from the 6th to the 12th days of the 4th lunar month, the main festival day is on the 9th day. The festival is a nor-mative festival in many aspects as legend, sense of organization and art perform-ance, especially with the participation of over thousand people.
Phu Dong Relic Site
Phu Dong Relic Site, about 17km from the centre of Hanoi to the north, includes many unique architecture works, of which typical ones are Thuong and Ha temples.
Thuong Temple (Giong Temple) is the most beautiful and largest one in the Phu Dong Relic Site. The temple was built in old house foundation of Saint Giong by King Ly Thai To. Now, the temple still remains architecture of Le Trung Hung Dynasty (the 17th century) as main shrine, thieu huong shrine, thuy dinh house. Ha Temple (or Mau Temple) worships Saint Giong's Mother, was built in 1693. In the front of the temple is a well with oval sharp, where every year taking water to Thuong Temple for ceremony. In the temple area, there is a stone with huge footprint, where Saint Giong's mother tread her feet on, then got pregnant.
Preparation time for the festival (from the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month to the 5th day of the 4th lunar month)
Preparations are usually undertaken one month in advance. On the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month, an organizing board including representatives of 4 villages (Phu Dong, Phu Due, Phu Vien, Dong Xuyen in Phu Dong Commune) called giap is established.
They are charge of choosing Flag Master (holding and dancing with flag), Gong Master, Drum Master and a group of dancers. Young men and women are se-lected to take part in the battle between Giong's troops and Yin invaders. A general rehearsal is organized on the 5th day of the 4th lunar month. And the festival begins on the 6th day and lasts for 7 days.
Main festival days (from 6th to 9th days). On the 6th day: At 3p.m, the water procession begins with taking part all the commanders, the troops, the group of singers and dancers from Hoi Xa Village (Al Lao Guild), as well as a large group of villagers. The procession draw water- termed "sacred water"- from the well at Mau Temple, dedicated to Giong's mother, and carry water contained in two big jars to Thuong Temple, dedicated to Giong. The villagers take water in order to wash and clean the weapons of Giong's troops, and pray for good weather and a bumper crop.
On the 7th day: At 11a.m, trays of steamed rice and salted eggplant, the food that Giong ate before he left his village for the front, are brought in a procession from Ha Temple to Thuong Temple.
On the 8th day: The heads of the giap and the notables from the 4 villages hold a rehearsal of the activities of the festival.
On the 9th day: The main festival day is marked In the morning by a procession carrying the flag from Mau Temple to Thuong Temple. In addition, fighting against the Yin invaders is re-enacted. The battle is elaborately arranged with the roles of Masters such as the Flag Master, the Drum Master, the Gong Master, the Army Master, and the Children Master - the generals of Saint Giong's troop which are played by young men and 28 girls play the enemy generals.
Subsequent days (from 10th to 12th days) On the 10th day: A ceremony is held to re-view the troops, to check up the weapons, and to offer thanks to Saint Giong.
On the 11th day: Water is brought in a procession to Thuong Temple to clean the cult implements, weapons. Games are played together with song and dance performances.
On the 12th day: A flag planting procession in which Saint Giong's troops search the Dong Dam and Soi Bia to find whether there are any remnant "enemy" troops. After checking, flags are planted to show that enemy troops have been driven out and peace has been restored. In the evening, a victory ceremony is held in which the news of victory is reported to the heavens. The ceremony also marks the end of the festival.
Giong Festival has the appearance of many unique dances, of which typical ones are command flag dance, drum dance, gongs dance... The dances are both a ritual and as a performance form, and have harmony between religious and arts.
Giong Festival at Soc Temple
Giong Festival at Soc Temple is held annually from the 6th to the 8th days of the 1st lunar month, main festival day on the 7th day with all traditional rituals such as: procession ceremony, incense offering ceremony, the ritual of bathing saint's statue...
The procession of Giong Festival
To prepare for the festival, in the 5th day evening, the bathing ritual of Saint Giong's statue is held to invite the Saint to participate the festival.
Soc Temple Relic Site
Soc Temple Relic Site is about 40km from Hanoi centre to the north, includes 6 constructions such as Ha Temple (or Trinh Temple), Dai Bi Pagoda, Mother Temple, Thuong Temple (or Soc Temple), Saint Giong Statue and Stele i House. Trinh Temple is located at the foot of Ve Linh Mountain. In the temple, beautiful ancient statues are still stored. Beside Trinh Temple is Dai Bi Pagoda. The pagoda is small but has unique architecture. Opposite Dai Bi Pagoda is Mother Temple, where worship the mother of Saint Giong. Next is Soc Temple (or Thuong Temple), where worship Saint Giong. Built in 980, the temple brings ancient Buddhism architecture. Saint Giong's Statue placed in the top of Ve Linh Mountain at an altitude of 302m. The statue made of bronze, 85 tons in weight, was cast in 2010 on the occasion of 1,000 anniversary celebration of Thang Long - Hanoi. On top of the mountain, there is also a stele house since hundreds of years ago. In here, there are the steles recording history of Soc Temple and Soc Temple Festival.
On the opening day, the 6th day, people from 8 villages of 6 communes as Tan Minh, Tien Duoc, Phu Linh, Due Hoa, Xuan Giang and Bac Phu have carefully prepared offerings to the Saint. Of which, bamboo flowers offering ceremony to Thuong Temple of Ve Linh Hamlet (Phu Linh Commune) is held the first.
The bamboo flowers are made of a bam-boo pieces that are sharpened into flow-ers and dyed with various colors. The worshipped saint embodies the aspiration for a peaceful country, harmonious rain and wind, and abundant harvest.
On the 7th day (main festival day which was the saint's ascending to heaven day according to the legend), lively scene of Saint Giong defeating Yin invaders in Ve Linh Mountain is organized.
On the 8th day, the ceremony of burning elephant and horse models takes place and the festival ends. Elephants and horses are two sacrificial objects associated with the process against invaders by Saint Giong.
During the festival, there are other traditional games such as human chess, cock fighting, performances of Ca tru, Cheo singing...
The festivals honouring Saint Giong in Vietnam
Apart from Phu Dong and Soc temples, Giong Festival is also organized in many localities in North Delta region to commemorate main events in the life of the myth hero as Giong Festival in Xuan Dinh (Tu Liem District, Hanoi) where Giong rested in the way to push the invader, on the 6th day of the 4th lunar month; Giong Festival in Bo Dau (Thuong Tin District, Hanoi) on the 8th day of the 1st lunar month; Phu Giong Festival in Chi Nam (Gia Lam District, Hanoi) on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Each festival contains own unique values to contribute to express clarity the image of the national hero Giong and national pride of Vietnamese people.