The Legend of Saint Giong
Giong Festival in Phu Dong pagoda and Soc temple is associated with an old story that a poor woman gave birth to a child in a strange way. Although he looked handsome and intelligent, at the age of three, he did not laugh and speak and just lying on a pannier hanging on a bamboo crossbeam all day long, so people called him Giong.
Nonetheless, after hearing the recruitment of the King to find talented people to defeat the aggressors, Giong suddenly grew up extremely fast, then volunteering to join the force to save the nation and citizens. As soon as defeating the Chinese, he rode a horse and ascended to heaven.
From that time, Giong turned into an immortal saint to protect crops and bring peace to the country. To commemorate his merit, local people built a temple to worship and take place an annual festival called the Giong festival in Phu Dong pagoda and Soc temple.
It is one of the biggest festivals in the Red River delta, organized according to a strictly regulated ritual and meticulously prepared, with the participation of numerous villagers around the area of the two temples.
Things That Not Many People Know about the Giong Festival
To organize the Giong Festival at Phu Dong Temple, families have the honor to choose people who play important roles during the festival must abstain for months before the festival, depending on their function and financial ability.
On the main day, 9th April, the most sacred, formal, and exciting part is the two matches. The first one is a chess match in Dong Dam while the second half took place in Soi Bia. The battlefield is three mats; each has a large bowl representing the mountains put on a white sheet of paper, symbolizing clouds. Surrounded by the troops of Giong and on the other side is the army of 28 female enemy generals ( the symbol for yin).
After the sacrifice ceremony, Mr. Hieu goes to each mat one by one, jumps over the hills (bowls), and performs chess movements. The cheers are more and more enthusiastic, while gong and drum sound show the fierceness of the battle. The flag dance of Mr. Hieu must be precise and skillful so that the flag will not be caught up in the handle since, based on the local belief, it is bad luck.
Each battle ends when a flag dance finishes. As soon as Mr. Hieu comes out of the mat, it is bounced, and people rush to take the mats that they believe would bring fortune to their family throughout the year.
Finally, the flag ceremony to announce the victory to heaven and earth and the military feast happen in the bustle of laughter, songs, and dances of people in the Ai Lao ward and folk games. Enemy generals and soldiers are also acquitted and allowed to attend the celebration. This behavior shows the respectful tradition of the citizens towards their ancestors and the national heroes, as well as the tolerant and humane spirit of the Vietnamese.
In fact, in addition to the two Giong festivals in Soc and Phu Dong temples, Hanoi has more than 10 Giong festivals (called the spreading area because the UNESCO has not recognized them). They are held in Bo Dau Commune (Thuong Tin district), Dang Xa and Le Chi (Gia Lam district), Phu Lo Doai, Thanh Nhan and Xuan Lai villages (Soc Son district), Son Du, Can Khe and Dong Do (Dong Anh district), Xuan Tao (Tu Liem district), and Hoi Xa village (Long Bien district).
However, according to folklore researchers, the Giong festivals in Phu Dong temple (where Giong was born) and in Soc temple (where Saint Giong ascended to heaven) is more profound and complete than those in other areas, from the fabled legend to the performing arts.
It is the reason why on 16th December 2010, in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, UNESCO officially recognized the Giong festival in Phu Dong and Soc pagodas is an Intangible cultural heritage of the world.