Ha Noi Vietnam Cultural Travel Dong Festival

Dong Festival

Time: From the 6th to the 12th day of the fourth lunar month. Main festival day is on the 9th day of the fourth lunar month.
Place: Phu Dong Commune, Gia Lam District, Hanoi.
Objects of worship: Saint Dong (Phu Dong Thien Vuong).
Characteristics: Theatrical team Ai Lao sings and dances for god worshipping; ba van thuan, ba van nghich dance imitating old battle of Saint Dong.

 

Preparations
Dong Festival annually takes place on the 9th of the fourth lunar month to celebrate the hero who defeated the enemy to defend the country. He was later honored Saint Dong. The festival re-stages the battle against the Yin invaders.

Preparations are usually undertaken one month in advance. On the first day of the third lunar month, an organizing board is established, which in charge of choosing flag holders, gong and drum players and a group of dancers. Young men and women are selected to take part in the battle between Dong's troops and Yin invaders. A general rehearsal is organized on the fifth of the fourth lunar month. And the festival begins on the sixth day and lasts for 7 days.

Festival days
On the 6th day: At 3 p.m, the water procession begins in which take part all the commanders, the troops, the group of singers and dancers from Hoi Xa Village (Ai 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 Dong's mother, and carry water contained in two big jars to Thuong Temple, dedicated to Dong. The villagers take water in order to wash and clean the weapons of Dong's troops, and pray for good weather and a bumper crop.

On the 7th day: At 11 a.m, trays of steamed rice and salted eggplant, the food that Dong ate before he left his village for the front, are brought in a procession from Mau Temple to Thuong Temple.

On the 8th day: The head of the giap (a village of organization gathering its male members according to their ages) and the notables from the four villages hold an review of troops representing Dong's army

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. Its rites are similar to those of the water procession. When the procession arrives at the temple, it is greeted with a ritual while the "troops" perform a ceremony and military display in honor of Saint Dong. In the end, they stand in rows before the altar of the Saint and pay their respects to him.

At 10 a.m, it comes the "catching tiger" game played by the group of dancers. At the same time, at the "enemy camp" near a lotus pond in Dong Vien Village, 28 female fighters of the Yin army sitting on their palanquins, surrounded by spectators, are ready for the battle.

At 1 p.m, reconnaissance groups report that the enemy troops have occupied the areas of Dong Dam and Dong Vien. The news is greeted by three salvos of drumbeats which signal the decisive hour comes. While the troops line up in rows waiting for the battle order, the group of singers and dancers perform a song praising Dong as the general sent by God to help the people repel the aggressors. As the song ends, the commanders prostrate themselves before the altar, receiving the order from their commander-in-chief and vow to fight to the end. The soldiers shout in chorus: "Yes, we obey the orders" and then start moving.

While marching and pulling horses vigorously, the soldiers shout in unison at the command of an officer standing behind the house. The troops stop at Mau Temple where they bow in respect to the mother of Saint Dong.

As the troops arrive at Dong Dam, they put white wooden horse on the dyke. The commanders come and stand at assigned places around the three mats, which are supposed to be the battlefield.

At 2 p.m, after the troops have been arranged (It means that they have been arrayed in battle position), three salvos of drumbeats resound, followed by deep silence. Then the commander gives the attack signal. The advance guards also beat their drums, signalling that they are ready for battle.

The process of the fight against the Yin enemy is symbolized by a number of rituals performed on the three mats by the flag commander. His movements describe the strength of Dong who can displace mountains and clouds. The last rite ends on the third mat, meaning that the battle has been won. The victory is greeted with drum and gong beats.

The troops, in full order, return to Thuong Temple. They stop for a few minutes at Mau Temple to report the news of victory to the hero's mother. Then they enjoy a feast.

The Yin army counter-attacks again. Three new rolls of drum and gong resound. All the commanders and soldiers leave their tables, seize their arms and set out for the front, that is the Soi Bia area lying between Thuong Temple and Mau Temple which is occupied by the invaders.

The flag commander performs the three rituals again, with a slight difference. The end of the third ritual is greeted by three resounding rolls of drum and gong beats which signal complete victory over the aggressors. Enemy commanders are taken to Thuong Temple and are made to kow-tow four times before the altar of Saint Dong. Then an "officer" uses a trophy sword to push away the hat and tear open the dress of enemy prisoner. These gestures symbolize the beheading and skinning enemy troops. He also assembles all the trophies for the purpose of reporting the feat of arms to Saint Dong in the back chamber of the temple.

Thereafter, the feast continues with added zest till the evening and is followed by music and traditional games until midnight.

Subsequent days
On the 10th day: A ceremony is held to review the troops, to check up the weapons, and to offer thanks to Saint Dong.

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 our "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.             
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