by Jim Goodman
|Liẽu Hạnh, Phủ Tây Hồ|
The 16th century was a chaotic time to live in the Red River Delta. A civil war between the Mạc family who had usurped the throne and the Lê family who sought their own restoration periodically raged across the countryside. Armies trampled the crops, confiscated the food, took away the young men for their armies and conscripted others for building their fortifications. Buddha, Quan Âm, Taoist gods and the village guardian spirits seemed to have all become helpless. The people began craving new deities to aid them in these chaotic and dangerous times.
|bà đông with flaming incense|
Having enjoyed her stint as a mortal she beseeched her father to let her return. So she was reborn as Liễu Hạnh in Nam Định province, one of the major battlegrounds in the war at that time between the Mạc and the Lê-Trịnh armies. She grew up beautiful and intelligent and married a poor student who was the reincarnation of the husband she had in her first spell on earth. She is said to have traveled widely throughout the north, something women rarely did in those days, and to have composed poems in the company of Confucian scholars.
|young bà đông|
Another, obviously Buddhist version portrays Liễu Hạnh as a rebel who refuses to return to her celestial abode after her 21 years exile on Earth. She travels around the country stirring up passions everywhere, arousing royal ire and eventually the Buddha’s intervention. He persuades her to change her behavior and follow the Way of the Buddha. As a result, she becomes a Buddhist goddess as well, associated with births and fertility.
Thus Liễu Hạnh became connected with all the religious belief-systems prevailing in the country. A member of a celestial Taoist family, she was also a Buddhist deity. Born into poverty she grew up intelligent enough to impress Confucian scholars. And as the most important Holy Mother, she was part of a pantheon that included deities from the northern ethnic minorities and the ancient Chăm goddess Po Nagar.
|ông đông performance|
|keeping it up with rice liqauor breaks|
|Holy Mothers images|
|different props for different goddesses|
So the next time you are out wandering through the back streets of Hanoi, or any big northern city, and you happen to hear some enchanting music coming out of a little temple, take a look inside. You might be witnessing a four hundred-year-old custom, persisting into contemporary times, just as popular, authentically Vietnamese and downright entertaining as it has always been.
|distributing rewards to the devotees |