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Tuesday, 25 October 2016 16:35
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Promoting the worship of Hung Kings in national construction and defense


(LLCT) - On the occasion of the third anniversary of UNESCO’s inscription of “The Worship of Hung Kings in Phu Tho” on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee jointly held a seminar “The Worship of Hung Kings in Vietnam” in Ho Chi Minh City on December 26, 2015. We would like to publish parts of the keynote report and the summation of the seminar, presented by Prof., Dr. Ta Ngoc Tan, Member of the Party Central Committee and President of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics.

Although many peoples around the world practice ancestral worship in various forms and to different extent, the cult of Hung Kings as national founders is a unique feature of Vietnamese culture.

The Viet people attach great importance to the long-established cult of ancestral worship. They consider it a standard form of “filial piety” because life and death, in their conception, require the same respect. Thus, it is necessary to pay homage to the deceased as if they were alive. “Filial piety” is to show wholehearted esteem to elder relatives and serve grandparents and parents when they are alive, and respectfully worship them after their passing away. “Filial piety” also demonstrates gratitude to predecessors who sacrificed their lives in service of the Vietnamese people and country. This practice is also considered a moral pathway that helps the Vietnamese people form their personality and lifestyle with the perception of their origins and a sense of gratitude for previous generations. The ideas of “filial piety” have become a philosophy of human life, a cultural value and a belief of the people of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese people are not only grateful to their ancestors and parents, but also honor the founders of villages and the heroes who devoted themselves to the nation. Therefore, the Vietnamese people build communal houses, temples and shrines to worship the heroes as deities, which is a way for them to express their gratitude and keep the heroes’ merit in mind. It is also a method for passing down the exploits of the ancestors through generations and establishing a connection between the dead and the living. Important events that happen to every individual or to his/her community are respectfully reported to the ancestors. This belief is expressed intensely and affects the lives of Vietnamese people in all social strata and localities. Thus, the feudal dynasties of Vietnam conferred the title of Saint on Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan (Duc Thanh Tran) and the title of Deity on the famous generals Ly Thuong Kiet, Pham Ngu Lao, and Mac Dinh Chi.

The conferment of heroes and the organization of annual rituals were recorded in historical literatures. The Hung Kings selected Nghia Linh Mountain, the highest in the capital of Van Lang State, as the sacred site for services dedicated to the Sun God and the Rice God, where the people would pray for good weather, bumper crops, and general prosperity. Later, the people erected a temple on Nghia Linh Mountain to commemorate the Hung Kings’ great merits. In order to consolidate his political power, King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) gave himself the right to offer sacrifices to heaven and earth and institutionalized the worship of Hung Kings. In 1470, ten years after his enthronement, King Le Thanh Tong ordered the royal records of Hung Kings to be made to affirm the power of royal dynasties in the country. Since then, the worship of Hung Kings became a national tradition.

The Hung King temple complex and the cult of Hung Kings were particularly attended to by kings of the Nguyen Dynasty. In 1874, King Tu Duc ordered Nguyen Ba Nghi, a provincial chief, to repair and enlarge the Thuong Temple and build a mausoleum of the Hung Kings next to it. In 1917, under the reign of King Khai Dinh, the Ministry of Rites sent an official letter (dated 25th July) requesting the mandarins of Phu Tho Province to hold an annual national ceremony on the 10th day of the third lunar month. The mandarins, on behalf of the king, would offer sacrifices to the nation’s founders at the Hung Kings temple.

The Hung Kings temple complex on the Nghia Linh Mountain in Phu Tho Province is the original venue of Hung Kings worship. In the former Van Lang State, there are 71 archaeological sites related to the worship of Hung Kings. Currently, according to the statistics of the Department of Cultural Heritage, there are more than 1,400 places of worshipping Hung Kings and their generals across Vietnam.

The Hung Kings have mythological origins; but it should not mean we cannot recognize the era of the Hung Kings in the official history of Vietnam. Other nations of the world also “put a mythological coat” on their civilization’s beginning. The Greeks, for example, described the Trojan War, that took place in the 13th or 12th century BC, through Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The history of the Jewish people is also described in the Bible in a mystic way.

A number of historians misunderstand the title “Hung Vuong”. It is incorrect to assume that it was a feudal institution attaching to the social organization of a clan or tribe. Hung Vuong may simply be a name that historians used afterwards to describe chieftains, patriarchs or civil and military mandarins of that time. Despite whatever position they held, their origin was attached to the myth of Lac Long Quan and the Fairy Au Co. These two mythical creatures gave birth to a sac containing 100 eggs, from which 100 children were born and later became the Vietnamese people. The first son became the king of the Van Lang State and took the title of Hung Vuong, beginning the legends of the Hung Kings. These stories reflect the Vietnamese people’s ideas of their origin from thousands of years ago and show their determination to affirm the authority of the independent dynasties of Vietnam. The nature of their birth, from 100 eggs of the same sac, made the sense of familial attachment, camaraderie, and solidarity of the Vietnamese people stronger and more steadfast. This history of moral strength and support comes into play whenever the country faces natural calamities or more powerful enemies. Reality shows that the solidarity of the Vietnamese people has created great strengths that overran any opposition.

The age-old history of the tradition of Hung Kings worship and the active involvement of the Vietnamese community and oversea Vietnamese in preserving such practice contributed to UNESCO decision to inscribe the worship of Hung Kings in Phu Tho on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on December 6, 2012, the first of its kind as recognized belief systems. On the third anniversary of that event, the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee jointly held a seminar entitled “The Worship of Hung Kings in Vietnam” to introduce this traditional practice to international friends. Participants were able to examine the temples dedicated to the Hung Kings as plans were made for the restoration of relics and the collection of classic references and rituals in order to find consistencies throughout the country. These actions work towards preserving and highlighting Hung Kings worship as an intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

The seminar organization board received more than 40 papers from scholars and managers of central and local agencies with two main objectives:

To gather information about the history of formation and values of Hung Kings worship in Vietnam.

To preserve and promote the cult of Hung Kings.

The archeological data found through excavation, the treasure of Han Nom and the old bibliographies kept as archives at the Hung Temple (in Phu Tho Province) enable us to affirm that the existence of the Hung Kings worship dates back to Phung Nguyen culture, about 2000-1500 BC in Lam Thao, Phu Tho Province.

The values of Hung Kings worship have been further identified in different aspects: historical, economic, cultural, educational, scenic and spiritual. Also, they are particularly regarded as a symbol of Vietnamese consciousness, spirit, and solidarity. Therefore, understanding this practice is of great significance in the promotion of Vietnamese unity towards national construction and defense.

Many papers at the seminar point to the necessity of popularizing Hung Kings worship as a precious cultural heritage on the mass media and in school curriculums in order to intensify the awareness of national ancestors and to build statues of Hung Kings at cultural and historical sites across Vietnam.

Vietnam should focus on the value of Hung Kings worship as the only belief system given cultural heritage status in the development of Vietnam’s spiritual tourism. This may also serve to promote the image of Vietnam, its culture and people to international friends. Therefore, plans should be made for the research and construction of tourist sites related to the worship of Hung Kings.

Scholars also expressed their preoccupation with the disparity among styles of Hung Kings statues and the installment of their statues in temples across the country, in addition to the rituals of Hung Kings worship that differ in each region and group of people. To support a more standardized approach and create conditions for the preservation of Hung Kings worship, scholars suggested the restoration of traditional art forms and festivals related to this worship in Phu Tho, such as the Xoan singing, the Tro Tram festival, the He Village festival, the festival procession of Mr and Mrs Khiu, and the banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) and banh day (round glutinous rice cake) offering ceremonies.

On the other hand, it is necessary to recognize changes in modern festivals dedicated to Hung Kings in Vietnam, and to reject religions that tarnish the Hung Kings and affect their worship, and by extension, the traditional cultural values of the nation.

It has been proposed that the preservation of Hung Kings worship is not only the task of the Vietnamese community, but also the responsibility of the international community as the practice is recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Therefore, preservation tactics should have a methodical, scientific and long-term agenda. In addition, the worship should be infused in the daily life of the people, popularized and educated as a traditional, cultural activity to be maintained and promoted. In particular, there has been an initiative to designate the death anniversary of the Hung Kings (on the 10th day of the third lunar month) as a Vietnamese Day in foreign countries.

The seminar organization board and the participants expressed their hope that the values of the Hung Kings worship will be practiced in the social lives of the Vietnamese people, both nationally and internationally, and create a new motivation for national construction and defense in the coming period.

Prof., Dr. Ta Ngoc Tan,

President of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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