Experience traditional culture through dragon king shrine festival and the ritual of releasing flower lanterns on Bac Vong river

Tuesday - 21/12/2021 18:20

Beside famous places of scenic beauty such as Ban Gioc waterfall, Nguom Ngao cave, Mountain Angel eye, on the journey to the east of Non nuoc Cao Bang UGGp “Experience culture in a wonderland”, visitors have an opportunity to discover a unique and intriguing indigenous culture.
One unique religious festival held in Eastern Cao Bang is the ritual of releasing flower lanterns on Bac Vong river as part of Dragon King shrine festival in Thong Hue, Trung Khanh district. The festival is imbued with cultural identity, which is held to worship the Dragon king, pray for favorable weather conditions, prosperity, and especially to pray for a male heir.
Dragon King Shrine is a sacred place, built on the side of Tam Tien mountain (which means the mountain of three fairies), in Thong Hue. In front of the shrine is the Bac Vong river meandering creating a picturesque scenery. It is said that this is a sacred mountain which embraces good factors according to Fengshui.  The shrine was built to worship a god of river, Dragon King of the south sea. According to legend, in the past, people often had accident when travelling across the part of the Bac Vong river in Thong Hue quarter, the river monster took 1 or 2 people to its palace under the river. In Thong Hue quarter, there was a poor couple who have no children working as dustmen in the market. Because the couple were kind-heated and often helped others, the God of water let Dragon king of the south sea be reincarnated as their son. One day, the son told his parents: “Tomorrow, I am going to my palace under the river, please take care of yourselves. I will ask my father not to take people crossing Thong Hue Bridge each year as before”. Then, the son died that night. Since the death of the couple’s son, people didn’t have any accident when travelling on the Bac Vong river. So mournful with the son’s death that his parents and neighbors set up this shrine.
As a rule, in leap years, the people in Thong Hue quarter organize Dragon king shrine Festival with the ritual of releasing flower lanterns on the Bac Vong river.
To prepare for a favorable festival, after the Lunar New Year, the neighborhood will send some people to Tao shaman’s house to choose three good days between Lunar January and March to hold the festival. After that, they will select the festival organizers to assign tasks for related people and prepare tasks such as cleaning up the shrine, cutting paper to make flower lanterns, and preparing palanquin etc.
There is a compulsory rule taken from the past is that on the main day of the festival, all people living in Thong Hue street must go on vegetarian diet. Butchers and fish sellers aren’t allowed to do business there. All the restaurants and food stalls are closed.
The offerings to Dragon king includes a headless pig (as it is told that the Dragon king of the South sea was beheaded), sticky rice, fruits and banh day (a kind of glutinous dumpling). Dragon King shrine festival lasts three days, with mysterious spiritual rituals. On the first day, locals take Tao and But shamans to the shrine to make preparations for the festival: sealing around the shrine to keep away evils, setting up “Triple Gems” altar, hanging picture of the Three Pure Ones as well as preparing offerings and votive clothes for Dragon king. Banh day and rice wine Banh day and rice wine must be prepared by widows because it is believed that women who have husbands are not hygiene.
On the main day of the festival, shamans practice worship rites at the shrine, for instant: Tao shamans dance and sing with a wooden tablet in their hands; their dance which follows a figure 8 motion in the clockwise direction to illustration the harmony of the universe, really makes people fascinated.

After the worship rites the procession of Dragon King of the South Sea takes place with a colorful and elaborately decorated wooden palanquin and parasol. The procession starts from the shrine, led by lion dancers, followed by the palanquin, the shamans, the music team, the elderly and the last are the festival goers. The march heads to the Land god shrine, then goes to each household in the neighborhood to give them blessing and an amulet paper in Chinese, then the host will paste the amulet onto the door.
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The preparation for releasing flower lanterns
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The rite of releasing flower lanterns on Bac Vong river
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People joined the flower lanterns releasing rite
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Couples led incense sticks at the shrine after picking up flower lanterns
Another interesting rite that visitors can experience at this festival is releasing flower lanterns on the Bac Vong river, which is also the most important rite of the Dragon king shrine festival.
At about 8 p.m, shamans and a lot of festival goers go to the river to release flower lanterns. Before releasing lanterns, the shaman light incense sticks to practice rite, hundreds of flower lanterns will be released afterwards. Thousands of people gather both sides of the river hoping to pick up lanterns for good luck (especially, young couples who have got married for a long time but have no children really long for the lanterns). The people who are lucky to pick up lanterns will take the lanterns to the shrine, light incense sticks and announce to Dragon King of the South sea, then the lanterns will be brought home and placed on the ancestor altar (it is compulsory to keep the lanterns from going out on the way home). 
On the last day of the festival, households on Thong Hue quarter and festival goers go to the shrine to share the offerings for good luck, meet their friends and relatives as well as exchange graceful Da Hai songs, etc.
Dragon King Shrine Festival is a spiritual and cultural place, where the communities get together to express their concerns to each other, and to pass down cultural heritage, or in other words – it is the place where traditional cultural values are generated, preserved and promoted, the village-scale cultural values were turned into the spiritual strength of the nation. This cultural heritage has to be preserved and promoted.
Co Sau or Thong Hue ancient quarter in Trung Khanh is endowed with sublime scenery, ancient houses, signature dishes: Khao cake (sweet glutinous cake), fermented bean curd, “Mec Cang” paste (fermented wheat paste) and the ritual of releasing flower lanterns on the Bac Vong river after Lunar New Year will definitely leave good impressions on visitors.

Source: Hà Quyết - Hoàng Huyền

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