In the last part, we have together followed the history line back to the origin of Gióng and how a traditional Gióng Festival is held and organized. For you who think that a brief explanation is not enough, this part will help you to have a more detailed look, as well as an understanding of the most significant traditional festival of Vietnam, held to worship one of the Four Immortals – Gióng God. If you are all set, follow us on one of the most profound Vietnam heritage tours once again.
As we have stated in the last part, Gióng Festival is annually held in contiguous areas of Hanoi, especially Sóc Sơn, where the legend of Gióng is originated. However, as a matter of fact, there are over 10 areas around Hanoi where the festival is held every year. They are just called “the influenced areas” since they have not been recognized by the UNESCO. Apart from the Gióng Festivals in those 10 areas, there are only two others, the one in Sóc Sơn and another in Gia Lâm, both of which are recognized by the UNESCO as the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. To be detailed, the former is Sóc Sơn Gióng Festival opened at Sóc Temple of Phù Linh Commune in Sóc Sơn Province and the later is Phù Đổng Gióng Festival held at Phù Đổng Temple of Phù Đổng Commune in Gia Lâm – a suburban district of Hanoi. Therefore, the study and research of the Gióng Festival in those two areas are of great importance to historical scholars and for travelers, in particular, it is one of the most interesting Vietnam culture tours that they will love to take for at least once when traveling to Vietnam.
Giong Festival in Soc Son
According to legends, Phù Linh Commune of Sóc Sơn Suburban District is the last stop of Gióng God in his journey to fight back the bad and returns to the sky, where he is supposed to be. For this reason, the place is regarded as the motherland of Gióng, the cradle where the great God is born. And so, if you ask any locals where Gióng Festival is held, the first answer that you will definitely hear is Sóc Sơn. Of course, there are still people who know other locations where the festival can be held such as Phù Đổng but it is not widely known as Sóc Sơn.
The offerings are being brought to the temple
As we have mentioned in the last article, Gióng Festival is held on April 9th every year. However, it is just time when Gióng Festival is held in most of the areas including the influenced area and Phù Đổng whereas Gióng Festival in Sóc Sơn is held on January 6th annually in Moon Calendar. The festival here will formally take place in the total of three days with every traditional ritual meticulously and carefully organized at the Temple of Gióng such as Khai Quang, lễ rước (the Operating), dâng hương (Incense offering), carrying bamboo flowers to Thượng Temple where the great God is worshipped.
The progression of Gióng Festival in Sóc Sơn is also a little bit different from that of Phù Đổng and other influenced regions. Before the festival officially takes place, seven villages as the seven representatives of their own communes will prepare offerings for the first day of the festival, which is also known as the opening ceremony. These offerings will be used on the 5th when the opening ceremony takes place. The reason for these offerings is to prepare for the “invitation” of the Gióng God to the village to join the festival with the villagers and receives their humble respect through the modest offerings. The offerings are also to pray for blessing from the God of a happy and joyful life to the villagers. Besides the main offering ritual, there are also many entertaining games and dances to express admiration and gratitude to the achievement of Gióng God such as chicken fight, Chinese chess, ceremonial songs, traditional Vietnamese opera, and so on.
Ruoc Kieu – carrying the worshipped carriage
Although the ritual held on the 4th and 5th is of great toil and sophistication, the 6th is the last and also the most important day of the whole festival. As what is told, the 6th is the day Gióng God takes off his armors and flies back to the sky so it is specially organized by the people with great respect as the God flies back to the sky bringing along their offerings and wishes. On this day, all villagers, as well as travelers who want to commemorate the God, will gather at the temple to make incense offerings during the day. When the night falls, at midnight to be exact, Khai Quang will officially take place. Khai Quang, literally translated into Vietnamese is “bringing in the light”, is actually bathing the Gióng Statue.
Bringing in the bamboo flowers
However, it is still not the most important part of essential Vietnam tours that you get to see. The main ritual of the whole festival taking place on the 6th is actually the bamboo flower offering at Sóc Temple and “killing the enemy’s general”. The bamboo flowers are made actually made of long bamboo sticks of about 50 centimeters each and dyed in yellow at the top. The reason for this ritual, as mentioned above, firstly is to replace that of tearing the mats and secondly, bamboo is what Gióng uses to kill his enemies when his sword is broken. So a stick of bamboo flower represents strength, luck, and the soul of the country as bamboo is a symbol of bravery and solidarity in Vietnamese conception. After all the rituals are done, the flowers will be brought or scattered to the yard so that everyone can come and take one for themselves. The ritual of killing the enemy’s general is actually cutting a statue as an illustration of the scene when Gióng uses his bamboo sticks to hurl and finally kills Ân’s general who is called Thạch Linh. Although Gióng Festival is based on a legend, many scholars still believe that the festival bears features of a harvest praying ceremony in the concept of most Northern regions rather than a festival mainly for worshipping.
As in your Vietnam heritage tours, you will know that the feeling of participating in the festival is totally different from when you are just an observer. As the festival has rooted a profound belief to many people, especially people who are living in Sóc Sơn, they have been quite eager of taking part in it as their great honor even when it takes so much time and effort. If you are wondering about what kind of heritage tours in Vietnam that you can have, a visit to Sóc Sơn is not a bad idea.
Giong Festival in Phu Dong
If you want to have a more open view of one of the greatest Vietnam heritage tours, Phù Đổng will be just the place. Not only Gióng Festival but also many other valuable traditional festivals are also held in Phù Đổng. Besides, Gióng Festival, Phù Đổng is more widely known for the Phù Đổng Health Festival where juniors and adults will compete in different kinds of sports such as kung-fu. Back to the Gióng in Phù Đổng, the festival takes place every year on the 8th and 9th of April according to the Moon Calendar in Phù Đổng Commune of Gia Lâm, where witnesses the birth of the mighty hero Phù Đổng Thiên Vương – Gióng God.
The army is getting filled up at Thuong Temple
Bearing most of the features of the general model of Gióng Festival, Gióng Phù Đổng also consists of many acts such as ông Hiệu, Phù Giá, Cô Tướng – the young female actresses as the enemies, The Red-shirt Village representing the investigating army, the Black-shirt Village which is the local force, and so on. Compared to Gióng Sóc Sơn, Gióng Phù Đổng is more like a vivid illustration of historical events and bears the spirit of a true Gióng Festival. As we have mentioned about some rituals taking place at the festival, each of them has different significant meanings rather than being just an act or ritual. For example, “rước nước” is to train the army’s spirit before entering the battle, “rước Đống Đàm” means taking a negotiation for peace with the enemies, “rước Soi Bia” illustrates the scenes of the furious fight in which Hiệu Cờ waves his flag three times while standing on the mat as we have mentioned before, and so on.
The three matches
About the flag used in the ritual, it is a huge red flag with the word “Lệnh” written on it. The flag along with the method of illustration represents a few concepts in the art of army training in order to earn the victory. The concept can be perceived as “the order must be transparent” and “the art of war must be strategic and creative”.
The Supporting Army in their loin-cloth
To go into more detailes about the armies of our side, as we have mentioned in the last article, besides the main five generals of Hiệu Cờ representing Gióng God, there is also a supporting army of 120 soldiers. Though there is no clear illustration of the soldier’s clothes, these people in the festival are described as half-naked young men wearing a loin-cloth, with head worn a melon-shaped head carved with 9 dragons representing the Earth, shoulders armed with a half-moon bag representing the Sky, and lastly, the hand is accompanied by a fan representing the flexible transformations.
Through the analysis of Gióng Festival, we are more convinced by the fact that an exploration of the historical core of Gióng is truly one of the most worthwhile Vietnam heritage tours. In general, Gióng Festival is a traditional occasion where we get the one-of-a-lifetime chance to witness the vivid illustration of one of the greatest legendary fights in the history of one of the Four Immortals. It is not only the fight between Gióng God, Văn Lang people and the enemies of Ân but also the fight representing the strength of a whole nation. Through the fight, what we learn is not only the admirable unity and power of the Vietnamese but also the amazing creativity in the art of war used by Vietnamese in the old days and how people have successfully illustrated it in the real life until this very moment.
According to the people’s committee of Hanoi, at exactly 6.20 pm on November 16th, 2010, UNESCO has officially recognized Gióng Festival held at Phù Đổng and Sóc Sơn as one humanity’s intangible heritage. This is not only a great honor but also a milestone through which the effort of activists, historians researchers and especially, the people who remain a strong belief of Gióng have earned.