Before being recognised by UNESCO, the ceremony was performed only in religious settings, but now regular shows are held at cultural centres around Hoan Kiem lake for the masses to enjoy.
The Hoan Kiem People’s Committee worked with the Centre for Research, Conservation and Promotion of Vietnamese Music to hold Hau Dong performances at the Nam Huong pagoda on Le Thai To street, on the bank of Hoan Kiem lake.
The performances are held on weekend nights from 8.30pm to 22.45pm, together with other types of traditional music such as quan ho, cheo, and ca tru, attracting many locals as well as tourists. The Len Dong ceremony follows the strict traditional requirements in terms of costume, music and style, however the spiritual aspect has been reduced while interaction with the audience has increased.
Pham Minh Hien, a performance artist from the centre, said: “Seeing the audience clap and sway along with the music, I feel very moved and proud that I am contributing a small part to promoting Vietnamese culture.” Ha Thu, a tourist from Danang, said: “When I heard about Hau Dong, I was hesitant because it’s a spiritual ceremony. However after going to two performances, I can say I really liked the atmosphere. My friends and I swayed to the music and cheered for the performers. It’s totally different from the sacred atmosphere I had imagined.”
Mother worship is a very popular folk religion of the North. In this religion there are four mothers ruling four worlds or ‘tu phu’: Sky, Earth, Water, and Forest. In pagodas, the altars for mother worship are often located behind or by each side of the main pagoda with their design in harmony with the whole architecture of the main pagoda and ambience of the natural surroundings. Besides pagodas, Vietnamese people worship Mothers in a separate temple called a Phu. Looking at the statues, one can see that the Mother for each world is very distinctive. The Forest Mother (Mau thuong ngan) wears green clothes and sits in the middle of the altar.
The Water Mother (Mau thoai) who reigns the Water World, wears white clothes, and is in charge of rain and irrigation. She sits at the left hand of the altar. The Earth Mother (Mau dia) wears a yellow dress and takes care of the field work and land cultivation. Occupying the highest position is the Sky Mother (Mau thuong thien) who rules the sky and is in charge of rain, wind and thunder.
During the very popular Len Dong ceremony, spirits are invited to possess the female performer so that they bring to life some activities from the sacred world with the aim of ensuring the health and prosperity of individuals or communities. Participants are believed to be able to communicate directly with the spirits who possess the medium. The ritual is usually quite theatrical and follows some established conventions.
In Vietnam all the famous pagodas represent the Mother's sanctuary. They include the Perfume Pagoda, the Keo and the Dau pagodas. The biggest temple dedicated to the Mothers is probably Phu Giay in Nam Dinh Province (140km south of Hanoi) while in Hanoi, people can visit Phu Tay Ho.
By Hong Oanh