Vietnamese Dragon - The Heart And Soul Of Vietnamese People
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The dragon or the heart and soul of Vietnamese people The dragon is an imaginary animal, but its image is omnipresent in the lives of Vietnamese people. A sacred animal, it occupies a special position in the culture and beliefs of the Vietnamese people.
The Vietnamese people claim the Dragon as their ancestor. According to legend, Lac Long Quân, son of the Dragon, destroyed sea monsters and created a vast kingdom. He married Au Co, mountain fairy, who gave him a hundred eggs, which gave him a hundred boys... Fifty of them followed the father to the maritime region, the rest went to the mountains with the mother. The eldest son was proclaimed King Hùng, founder of the first Vietnamese royal dynasty... This legend is at the origin of the proverb Con Rông, chau Tiên (Son of the Dragon, grandson of the Fairy).
Under the feudal regime, the dragon represented the king, son of God, the supreme authority, the power of the nation. The word "dragon" (long in Vietnamese) was used to designate the parts of the emperor's body (for example "long nhan" means the king's face) and his objects for daily use (his parade clothes embroidered with a dragon, his throne decorated with dragon motifs...). The image of this sacred animal is present in all the buildings of the court (royal palace, dynastic temple, mausoleum, royal tomb...).
The dragon through the ages
The image of the dragon is transformed through the dynasties, according to the aesthetic criteria of each era. The Ly dynasty (1010-1225) laid the foundations of Vietnamese feudal culture. Buddhism spread and Van Miêu (Temple of Literature), the first feudal university, opened its doors. The thin dragon that results from this period represents the king and is the dragon of literature. Its rounded body forms long curves that gradually tapering towards the tail. Its back is continuously adorned with small regular fins. The head, straightened, has a long mane, prominent eyes, a mustache pointing forward, but no horns. The jaw is wide open, inside of which there is always a châu (jewels), a symbol of humanity, nobility and knowledge. The legs are short and thin, usually with three claws at the tips.
The dragon of the Tran dynasty (1225-1400) is similar to that of the Lý dynasty but becomes more fearless. He adorns himself with new details: arms and horns. Its majestic head has a shorter moustache. Its curved body is larger, but finer on the tail. There are several types of tails (straight and pointed, spiral) as well as several types of scales (a half flower with regular round petals, a slightly curved scale). This dragon symbolizes martial arts, the kings of this dynasty being descendants of a Mandarin commander. At that time, it was important to know that the Vietnamese had to fight the Mongolian invaders.
During the Le dynasty (1428-1788), due to the expansion of Confucianism, the Vietnamese dragon was more influenced by the Chinese dragon. Unlike those of previous dynasties, dra-gons of that era are not only represented in sinuous positions between clouds. Their bodies now have only two large ripples. They are majestic, with lions' heads. A wide snout replaces their mustache. Their feet have five sharp claws.
The stair railings of the royal palace of Cân Chanh (Huê), carved in the shape of a dragon. Photo: Nhât Anh/VNA/CVN
Under the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), the dragon was represented with a spiral tail and a long fin. His head and eyes are wide. It has the horns of a deer, a lion's nose, developed canines, a curved moustache and regular scales. The dragons representing the king have five claws, the others four. It is personified, for example, in the image of the mother with her children.
The dragon in popular life
The dragon is not only a symbol of nobility, of supreme power, but also a familiar image of popular life. In all villages and hamlets there are abundant and varied images of the dragon. The masons decorated the temples, pagodas and communal houses with reliefs, engravings, dragon sculptures... Ceramists have also embellished their products (vases, bowls, plates...). The dragon is also present in the famous popular images of the village of Dông Hô (Bac Ninh province, North). During village festivals, the dragon dance is often performed at the town hall.
The dragon dance
One detail to be clarified regarding the dragon in popular life: the feudal state has imposed strict rules on the use of the dragon symbol to distinguish the dragon from the royal court and the dragon from the popular life. For example, from the time of the Le and Trinh Lords dynasty (1533-1788) to the Nguyen era (1802-1945), only the king and crown prince had the right to wear the five claws image of the dragon. The dragon that adorns popular architectural constructions (temples, pagodas, communal houses) had three or four claws.
The dragon is not only used to decorate architectural constructions or to appear in works of art. It has a deeper meaning in the lives and beliefs of Vietnamese people living from rice farming. For Vietnamese farmers, the dragon is the symbol of the yang, a principle of life and growth, it brings rain, essential for agriculture. The dragon is intimately linked to climate and water. He is able to change the climate and is responsible for the harvests. The dragon tends to live in or near large bodies of water: tumultuous rivers, at the bottom of the oceans or in the heart of large clouds. Thus, one can contemplate everywhere the image of the dragon with clouds or large waves. The dragon also exists in literature, the language of man. Thus, many Vietnamese proverbs and popular songs mention it. We can quote: "Rông gap mây" (The dragon meets the clouds): is said to be a favourable condition; Dâu rong duôi tôm (A dragon's head, a shrimp tail): which starts well but ends badly; "Rông dê nha tôm" (The dragon visits the shrimp house): compliment used by a host to his guest; "An nhu rông cuôn, noi nhu rông leo, lam nhu meo mua" (Eat like the dragon parades, speak like the dragon climbs, work like the regurgitated cat): criticism addressed to someone who eats too much, talks a lot and is lazy.
Throughout the country, there are many place names related to the dragon: capital Thang Long (Dragon taking off) - former name of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay (The Downward Dragon), Hàm Rông Bridge (Dragon Jaw), Mekong Delta or the nine dragons (the part of the Mekong River passing through Vietnam and including nine arms named Cuu Long, which represent as many dragons).