Every nation commemorates its origins and founding fathers, and Vietnam is no exception. Known as Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival (Vietnamese: lễ hội đền Hùng), the celebration is an observance ceremony in honor of the eighteen founders of the Vietnam nation, the legendary Hùng Kings in Vietnamese culture. It is an annual jubilee, traditionally held between the 8th and 11th days of the third lunar month (April for all Gregorian-based Westerners). The 10th day of that month is called the day of Death Anniversary of the Hùng Kings (Vietnamese: ngày Giỗ Tổ Hùng Vương), recognized in 2007 as a national holiday in Vietnam.
The Golden Age
Preserved through the ages by colorful folkloric legends and supported by archaeological and historical findings, the origins of modern-day Vietnam are usually traced back to 2879 BC, when Kinh Dương Vương was the first to establish the Hồng Bàng dynasty, merging the various territories of the country under one unified rule. His son and successor, Lạc Long Quân (or Dragon Lord of Lạc) is a very notable figure in Vietnamese mythology and culture as a whole. The Hùng Kings’ reign continued for approximately three millennia and is marked by a time of peace, prosperity and flourishing patriotism.
Some of the Hùng Kings’ most important achievements include:
- Unifying and extending their domain to what is now North Vietnam and part of southern China; laying the foundations of a sovereign state.
- Establishing diplomatic relationships with China.
- Improving agriculture and administration.
- Developing social traditions and practices in administration and economy which would become part of a unique Vietnamese civilization.
Considered to be an especially sacred site, mountain Nghĩa Lĩnh in Phú Thọ province is home to a series of temples dedicated to the historic Hùng Kings and the area where the main festivities on the 10th day take place.
- A majestic gate, tall and imposing, grants entrance to the Temple of Hùng Kings.
- Steep steps lead up the mountain, accompanied by the dense forest along the way.
- Pray at the first of the three main sites, Chua Ha, the Lower Temple.
- The amazing sight of the Thien Quang Pagoda, the Tam Quan Gate and the Bell Tower arouse the imagination.
- Further up, Den Trung (the Middle Temple), where the Hùng Kings are said to have attended important meetings.
- The hike continues all the way to the top of the mountain, where the Den Thuong (The Upper Temple) stands.
- Follow the exit steps back down the mountain, stopping for a moment to admire the Mausoleum of the Hùng Kings and the Ancient Water Well.
The Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival
The Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival spans the duration of several days. The main service comprises of an incense offering ritual and other celebratory activities. Preparations for the celebration begin on the 9th day, when the organizing body sets up all the necessary palanquin and oblations, which are generally made up of various delicacies, flowers, and incense sticks. Flags are hung to point the way to Nghĩa Lĩnh mountain, and, in the evening, flying lights are released into the sky.
Early on the 10th day’s morning, a procession of young girls and boys, carrying festival flags, incenses, flowers and cake offerings like the Bánh Chưng or the rice cake Banh Giay, sets off at the foot of the mountain. Usually led by soldiers from Vietnam’s People Army, the procession stops at each of the temples to pray, before reaching the Upper Temple for the final rite. There, representatives of the Vietnamese Phu Tho Province and other such political figures make their offerings and give speeches to commemorate the Hùng Kings’ contribution in forming the nation’s national character.
Besides the spectacular procession, the festivities also include other events such as a traditional cake making competition, bronze drum beating, Xoan singing performances, cross-bow shooting, rice cooking, cock fighting and dragon dancing.
Tourists are more than welcome to join in the fun with the thousands of locals who flock to enter the temple.
Intangible World Heritage
The Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival is also listed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list is part of UNESCO’s initiative to protect, preserve and raise awareness of significant cultural events around the world.
Without a doubt, the Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival truly embodies Vietnamese unity, reconciling both past and present Vietnamese identity.