Sacred spaces and legends in Yen Bai soothe and restore the spirit

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VietNamNet Bridge – I do not need a second invitation when relatives call me to visit their hometown, either to chill out or check out some local attraction.



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Good luck charm: The Suoi Tien Temple is said to have stopped a long run of bad luck after it was upgraded many years ago.

For one thing, I love to travel, and for another, if it is a place, site or monument that I have not seen, my enthusiasm to visit just bubbles over.

So, when my aunt, La Thi Hien, whose native village is in the northwestern province of Yen Bai, suggested that I visit the Dai Cai and Suoi Tien temples in Luc Yen District, I got my family began packing immediately, although I was really tired from a long work-related trip to the UK.

The site is about 90km from Yen Bai City and more than 150km from Ha Noi, but temples are peaceful places, so they could end up soothing frayed nerves and rejuvenating my tired cells, I thought.

Thankfully, my guess was spot on, this time.

As we passed the To Mau Bridge spanning the Chay River

in Yen Bai, the beauty of the natural landscape that greeted us was uplifting. We had reached the Dai Cai Temple in Tan Linh Village, with its unique terracotta Hac Y Tower.

The site is recognized as a national relic, and a local tour guide, Vi Hong Nhan, explained why.

He said archaeologists found that the terracotta bricks used to build the Hac Y Tower carried intricate patterns of the peepal (sacred fig, ficus religiosa ) leaves, chrysanthemums and lotuses.

“This is a very important discovery because it proves that the technique of making such bricks also existed in the highlands of Yên Bái, as it had in the lowlands thousands of years ago,” Nhan said.

He said the temple was built during the Le Dynasty ((1427-1489) to honour and worship Vu Ngoc Anh, a daughter of court official, who was tasked with managing locals and troops to entrench and build the Bau Citadel, and to establish a market system in the region.

She was also asked by the king to take charge of supplying food for the troops for years, a task full of obstacles, including thick forests difficult to access. For her outstanding work, the king conferred on her a noble title: the Lord of Military Provisions.

In addition, she also learned cultivation methods from the lowlands and propagated them from the highlands, showing locals how to grow wet rice, cotton, and even weaving fabric, Nhan said.

The temple is also dedicated to two brothers, Vu Van Mat and Vu Van Uyen, who bravely fought foreign aggressors.

The temple’s architectural features and artefacts, including its pillars and carvings, the bronze incense burner, red lacquer works trimmed with gold-coloured four season carvings, made with precious wood like Parashorea chinensis, Gmelina arborea Roxb (also known as Gamhar) and canary wood, stand testament to the artistry and creativity of our ancestors.

A terracotta Buddha statue placed on a large carved lotus flower pedestal captured our interest. “They are characteristics of the Tran Dynasty (1226-1400),” a monk told us.

He also informed us that King Tu Duc (1847-1883) had conferred a sacred title on the temple.

On the fifteenth of the first lunar month, thousands of pilgrims and foreign visitors come to pray and enjoy the Dai Cai Temple Festival.

“During this festival, our family offers incense to the deities and pray for a bumper crop, and for our country to be prosperous and strong,” aunt Hien said, adding that she and her brothers enjoyed the traditional games featured in the festival, including shooting with a crossbow, cock-fighting and tug of war.

Aunt Hien then took us to another nearby tourist attraction, the Suoi Tien Temple in To Mau Village.

A tour guide at the temple, Nong Thi Lien, told us that the pagoda was built in 1928-1929. It is surrounded by the Tham, and Bach Ma mountains which have many beautiful caves and abundant fauna and flora.

“The caves were very good places for our people to hide weapons and food to supply our army during the wars against the French and Americans,” Lien said.

Before entering the temple, we went past a very big well. The water was so clear that we could see a school of goby fish (locally known as deity fish). My sons had a good time running around the well chasing them.

Legend has it that on upon a time, the land here was covered with green, flowering trees that blossomed all year around, and a pure and fresh stream running from the base of the Tham Mountain. Seven fairies took a bath every afternoon in the stream. At that time, in To Mau Village, there was young man, Chạ whose parents died when he was a little boy. Chạ was a woodcutter. One day, he hid the wings of the seventh fairy, so she could not fly back to heaven.

Chạ asked the fairy to come to his home. They later became husband and wife and the fairy taught villagers how to reclaim land for farming, grow other crops and make nets to catch fish in the Chay River.

Thanks to her, villagers led much better lives than before. But years later, the fairy was asked by her father (the Jade Emperor) to return to heaven. She took her two children along.

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Haven of peace: The Dai Cai Temple, a national culture and historical site in Yen Bai, welcomes thousand of pilgrims and travelers every year. Photos dulichyenbai.com

The villagers then built a temple called Po Tien (Tien Stream) to worship the fairy for her contribution to the village, Lien said.

Nguyen Quang Long, deputy head of the Luc Yen’s Culture Office, said that locals believe that before the temple was built, many unlucky things happened to them.

“ I don’t know its true or not but villagers still say that since the temple was built, every thing in the village became stable and very few people met with accidents and sudden deaths.”

The sacred, serene ambience of the temple and its surrounding natural beauty had a calming effect on us. It made the trip from a noisy, polluted city well worth it.

Aunt Hien then asked us to visit the Khai Trung eco village. We thoroughly enjoyed the thick, unspoilt forest and traditional food of the Tay and Nung ethnic groups, including crispy eggplants, castrated roosters and banana cakes.

As we prepared to leave (I had work, my sons had school), I thanked aunt Hien, and said very firmly: “We’ll be back next month.”

Duy An

VNS

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