The Soc Temple Festival

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The Lord Giong Festival
The Lord Giong Festival

The Sóc Sơn Temple is situated in Vệ Linh Village, Phù Linh Commune which now belongs to Sóc Sơn, a suburban district of Hà Nội. The temple is dedicated to Dóng God that is Phù Đổng Thiên Vương.
Starting from Hà Nội, one can go to Vệ Linh Village by following Highway No 1, cross Chương Dương and Đuống Bridges, then turn left and follow Highway No. 3, cross Phù Lỗ Bridge and, on reaching Mã Market (located at Km 29 of the same highway), turn left again.

The Sóc Sơn Temple is surrounded by mountains: Mt. Cao Tung to the South, Mt. Cấm to the East, Mt. Cổ Ngựa to the West, and the Mt. Rứa and a piece of flat land to the Southeast. In the ancient past, these mounts were covered with thick forests. The area is also bathed by two rivers: one following from the North-West to the South-East, the other from the West to the South.

The Soc Temple Festival
The Soc Temple Festival

The legend says that defeating the Ân invaders, hero Dóng galloped to the top of Mt. Sóc, then hanged his suit of armor on a scandal-wood tree, and vanished into the sky with his iron horse.
In commemoration of the event, a festival is held every year in Sóc Sơn Temple, involving festivity, the Mộc Dục ceremony, the Bamboo flowers procession, the Elephant procession, the Betel plant procession, the Paper boat rituals, and the beheading of the enemy commander.

Mộc Dục ceremony:

The ceremony is designed to scent and cleanse the statues of the temple. To this end, people from two villages (Vệ Linh, Phu Ma) put 7 pots of scandals-wood in front of the temple, then burn a bundle of incense sticks. Then, as a religious rite, a few persons would perform a dance with the incense sticks in their hands and use a mirror to shed light into the back chamber.

Bamboo flowers procession:

Ten villages from 2 districts (Sóc Sơn and Đông Anh) take part in this procession, where priority is given to Vệ Linh, Phu Ma, Thành Lai Villages of Sóc Sơn District, while the place of the other villages in the procession is determined by the time of their arrival at the assembly place.

There are artificial flowers woven with bamboo lath. After procession, each village contingent put one bamboo flower on the altar while the remaining are thrown in the air so that fellow villagers can snatch them in a free-for-all scramble for bamboo flowers produced by that village.
From various indication, this ceremony seems to be related to religious beliefs, the bamboo flower symbolizing the Linga, as is the case of flowers used in human fertility ceremonies. This explains why there is a scramble for the bamboo flowers.
Elephant procession:

Three villages contribute resources to the ceremony. On festival day, villagers from Duoc Thượng Village, Tiên Dược Commune, bring to serve to the temple an elephant made of bamboo lath to serve as a cult instrument, whereas the elephant offered last year is burned. The leader of the procession, “Bản Lệnh”, must find a good piece of white wood, usually the “mỡ” wood, and on the 5th January (of lunar year) get the people of Phú Hậu Village to turn that one-meter long piece of wood into two elephants tusks which are subsequently carried to the temple by 2 unmarried young men who are proceeded by two palanquins carried by 2 other unmarried young men. On the same day, villagers of An Sào Village (Tân Minh Commune) bring to the temple two banana trees which symbolize the food for the elephants. After the ceremony, the banana trees are planted at the temple.

Betel plant procession:

Women monks, walking in a solemn cortege, carry from Tiên Dược Village a betel plant to the temple, as an offering to the mother of Dóng God.
Paper boat ritual:

This ceremony is performed by people of Yên Minh Village. Paper boats are produced and brought to temple, each boat containing a number of dummies holding oars and weapons. After putting the boats in front of the temple and getting the dummies to prostrate in the direction of the altar (by pulling wires), the carriers must run home as quickly as possible. Thereafter, the paper boats and dummies are burned. (The carriers have to run away because, according to the legend, the dummies represent villagers from Tân Minh Hamlet who followed Dóng God in fighting the invaders, and, therefore, the spirits of these dummies may enter the bodies of the carriers).

The Soc Temple Festival
The Soc Temple Festival

Beheading the enemy commanders:

This is a ceremony performed by people of Yên Tràng Village, Bắc Phú Commune.

The ceremony originates from the legend which says that the Ân invaders were led by 28 female commanders (and in the Dóng Festival held in Hà Nội, Ân invaders are usually symbolized by 28 girls).

To this end, two unmarried girls, aged 12 to 16, are selected in advance. The girl must, as a rule, lead a pure life throughout the year in anticipation of the event. In the early hours of January 7 (lunar year) the villagers of Yên Tràng carry palanquins to the temple, accompanied by the two girls. After the ceremony is performed in the temple, the girls are brought to the foot of the mountain where they seated on a chair. After the leader of the ceremony finishes his prayers, a flag signal is given and, there upon, a person hit the leg of the chair and their relatives have to carry them home as quickly as possible.