Respect for family and Ancestor worship are traditional Vietnamese values deemed essential to the nation’s establishment and for its continuity. Filial piety especially is regarded highly and seen as an important pre-requisite factor for evaluating a Vietnamese person’s morals. The Hoa Lư Festival celebrates these traditional cultural traits.
The annual celebration honors national hero Dinh Bo Linh, the reknowned Emperor who united the country into Dai Co Viet and founded Vietnam’s first feudal dynasty. Due to their close association, the Festival also pays homage to the tremendous contribution of King Le Hoan, King Dinh’s successor who presided over the subsequent early Le dynasty.
When it comes to Vietnam’s history, there is no shortage of pivotal dates, heroic deeds and critical events to revere. However nothing compares to the acendancy of Dinh Bo Linh to King Dinh Tien Hoang and the formation of the inaugural Dinh Dynasty.
A Celebration of Independance
The Hoa Lu Festival holds a pre-eminent position among Ninh Binh celebrations and commands reverence throughout Vietnam. Vividly showcasing King Dinh Bo Linh’s life and career, as well as the cultural activities of the Dai Co Viet people of that era, it is also a colorful display of some of Vietnam’s oldest historical and traditional culture. A lot of fun mixed with pride at the founding Ancestors’ esteemed qualities of exchanging “blood and tears” for the country’s independence.
Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam’s first three feudal dynasties – the Dinh, the Early Le and the Ly. When King Ly Thai To relocated the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (now the capital of Hanoi), the great reverence people had for Hoa Lu remained intact. Currently, the Hoa Lu Festival keeps aspects of the ancient folk arts alive and promotes the robust rural traits that are at the core of Vietnam’s phenomable history. Increasingly recognised across the country, the Festival is fast becoming a “national” celebration.
The festival takes place from the 6th to the 9th of the third Lunar month and is held at the Hoa Lu ancient capital relic site in Truong Yen commune, Hoa Lu district. The festival is centered on the large expanse between between the twin Dinh-Le temples in the Ancient City complex.
Hoa Lu was renamed Truong Yen after the capitol of the Ly Dynasty was moved to Thang Long and for many years the festival was called the Truong Yen Festival. In 2016, it renamed the Hoa Lu Festival by the government due to the ancient city’s significant cultural and spiritual influence on the development of the Vietnamese nation.
Vietnamese mainstream culture places great importance on reverence for family and the instructions of the ancestors. Therefore, celebrating the lives and strictures of those who came before is considered a moral and practical obligation. The origin of those great ancesors is also considered important and people believe that the Hoa Lu Festival is also celebrates Truong Yen as land of “human genius” andpart of the reason for the success of their long struggle for peace and independence.
The National Ceremony
The Hoa Lu festival is described in historical records as a “solemn ceremony” and later regarded as “the Nation ceremony” by successive Vietnamese dynasties, despite the fact that Hoa Lu was no longer a the capital. It is well known that the courts of Thang Long-Hanoi all the way through to the lords of the Nguyen dynasty of Hue all sent high mandarins and officials to the Truong Yen/Hou Lu Festival.
According to legend, King Dinh’s birthday is on the 15th of the second lunar month, but the people of the ancient capital Hoa Lu celebrated instead the day the king ascended the throne, which was during the dates of March 6-7 on the lunar calendar. The death of King Le Hoan, the founder of the Early Le Dynsaty was on March 8, so the festival is traditionally held during those three days. A convenience of history perhaps but for such a large undertaking, certainly practical.
The festival is divided into two sections: the sacrifice and the festival. The sacrifice is separated into seven categories: the temple door opening ceremony, the water procession ritual, the incense offering ceremony, the fire procession, the Moc Duc ceremony, the donation ceremony, the palanquin procession, and the Floating Lamp ( Water lantern). The festival itself is composed of four sections: an opening ceremony, reed flowers chess drill, Thai Binh sorting letters, and festival-related events.
The ritual begins with the Moc Duc ceremony, which is the statue’s “bathing” rite (held at midnight the night before the festival begins). Moc Duc is a tradition rite of washing a corpse before burial used in many ceremonies in Asia as a symbolic cleansing of artifacts,statues and so on that represent the long deceased.
This is followed by the washing of the tablets and preparing headgear for the statues in preparation for the ceremonial palanquin procession of the ‘royal statue’ to the temple. The palanquin usually only carries the king’s tablet and cap. All this is basically preparing the revered ancestors for their public parade.
During the Hoa Lu Festival, people actively participate in the procession by burning incense, offering prayers, and reading vows passed down from generations. This pays respect to the talented heroes of the country and as an offering of worship to both heaven and earth. At the end of the “water procession,” everyone gathers in the center of the stage to start the fire procession by burning incense sticks at King Dinh and King Le’s shrines. As part of the Tribute Ceremony, a contest between the participating teams is held to select the most beautiful Five Fruit Trays and the ones most fit for worshipping the kings of both temples.
The Palanquin Procession
For the “Palanquin procession”, the parade begins in the heart of Hoa Lu’s old capital and concludes at the twin temples. This is said to demonstrate the respect, admiration and loyalty to the wise men who “laid a firm foundation” for modern Vietnam’s culture. Finally, Buddhist monks, nuns and fellow believers light water lanterns to release on the Sao Khe river, which begins at 19:00 and lasts until 23:00 on the same day.
The Procession is followed by the “temple opening” ritual at King Dinh Tien Hoang and King Le Hoan’s temples. During the event, guests can visit the temple without needing to show their entrance tickets as is customary. Following this is the “water procession” which begins at King Dinh Tien Hoang’s temple and proceeds to the Hoang Long river dock, where water is collected in a cup and returned to the temple.
The meaning of “the water procession” has a deep significance in local culture, expressing appreciation to the god in the Four Immortal mascots of Vietnam. It is said that the “Golden Dragon” sometimes appears in the river to assist. The ‘Fire Procession’ begins after the ‘Water Procession’ concludes. In general, this begins with a fire lit in King Dinh’s hometown in Gia Phuong commune, Gia Vien district, Ninh Binh province, and ends at the twin temples in Truong Yen commune, Hoa Lu district.
The opening ceremony takes center stage, and visitors can enjoy the musical “cultural legacy” of Vietnam, such as Cheo and Xẩm singing, among other things. Each “story” describes a new chapter in the nation’s history. From the establishment of the Dai Co Viet state to the defeat of the Song Dynasty army, the expansion of the territory to Champa, and the relocation of the capital to Thang Long citadel, Hanoi. Best advice here is to have a friend or guide who can explain what is happening.
The most famous event is “the traditional spiritual specialty of the Hoa Lu mountainous area” which is the stage of “the rehearsal reed flowers chess excise”. This popular selection depicts King Dinh Bo Linh’s boyhood story and explains how he unified the 12 warlords to construct Dai Co Viet’s centralized empire. There is also a folk game of sorting letters called “Thai Binh” and other activities for guests to enjoy.
Cultural practices are a vital thing during the development and construction of human society, and every country around the world preserves and promotes this “golden value” giving each nation its own individuality. Hoa Lu Festival expresses the identity of a nation that has been yearning for independence and wealth since inception and describes the various “markers” of that journey. It’s also a symbol of the bright future that awaits future generations. Regardless of all the changes, it reminds and celebrates a nation born from “the dragon and the fairy.“.