The main day of Kiep Bac festival occurs on the 20th day of the 8th lunar month, but from the previous days onward, the festival attracts many visitors from all over the country to the Con Son – Kiep Bac cultural and historical site in the northern province of Hai Duong.
The Legend of Kiep Bac Temple Festival
Millions of people throng Kiep Bac Temple to participate in the festivities. The festival takes place from the 15th to the 20th day of the eighth lunar month, when autumn is in its full bloom. Kiep Bac Festival is celebrated every year on the death anniversary of Saint Tran. The place was one of his hideouts and the temple was built in the memory of the saint.
Tran Quoc Tuan was the general who defeated the Chinese Nguyen-Mong invaders three times. Because of his merits to the nation, he was proclaimed a saint. General Tran Hung Dao had planned for this; he had spent months studying the river and embedding the spikes in the riverbed as his forces of soldiers and peasant conscripts harassed the Mongols.
They fired flaming arrows and attacked the damaged boats on water, destroying the entire flee and the Mongol army was thus defeated by Tran Hung Dao for the second time. The only other nation to successfully resist the Mongols was Japan.
The battle of Bach Dang is legendary across the world and considered a brilliant piece of strategy and its mastermind, General Tran Hung Dao, is both hero and saint in Vietnam.
Highlights and Activities of Kiep Bac Temple Festival
The festival bears the special characteristics of the traditional national identity. One of the most interesting activities in the festival is the boat race on the Luc Dau River, in which hundreds of boats participate. The boat race is like flying arrows rushing through the air as the boats are urged along by drumming sounds and the screaming of excited people.
Taking part in the Kiep Bac Temple Festival, participants relive the atmosphere of when Tran Quoc Tuan placed his troops into a battle-array. This festival makes the Vietnamese people feel proud of the glorious traditions of their nation.
The main ceremony is followed by a great ceremony with elaborate worshipping procedures. This ceremony is followed next by a procession where Saint Tran’s ancestral tablet is brought on a golden procession chair, passing three walled gates toward the river bank. The procession chair is then placed on a royal barge. The procession march lasts for two hours and then Saint Tran’s ancestral tablet is brought back to the main temple for the last religious service.
Colorful processions start on the morning of the 20th day from Van Yen, Duoc Son and Con Son for the temple. The procession embarks on the boat ornamented with votive flags and flowers. The Saint’s palanquin is transported on a dragon boat. The fleet leaves the quay in the resounding accompaniment of drum beats, gong and horn sounds, and the admiring acclamation of the audience. When the fleet moors, the procession returns the temple.
After all the processions gather at the gateway to the temple at a definite time, the ritual of incense offering takes place. The head of the religious ceremony delivers a speech to commemorate the efforts of Tran Hung Dao and the history of the anti-Yuan-Mongolian struggle during the Tran regime. After the deliverance of the funeral oration by the officiant, people offer incense sticks.
A vibrant ceremony characterized by a palanquin procession takes place after the completion of the incense-offering ritual. The blessed tablet of Saint Tran is kept in a red lacquered and gold gilded palanquin embellished with dragon and lion dancers around. The procession leaves the dock accompanied by enthusiastic drum beats, gong and horn sounds and the zeal of the followers.
A major attraction of the festival is the race of dozens of boats on the Luc Dau River. The enthusiastic people come from nearby Hanoi and other places beyond. All gather with the belief that Vietnam is a country that will never succumb to a foreign power. Notwithstanding the modern elements that have been incorporated to the festival, it has retained its traditional fervor.
Tens of thousands of Vietnamese people make the pilgrimage to celebrate not only their great general, but their nation’s proud military history. They are united by a belief and a great notion that Vietnam is a great country and it has not and will never bow to a foreign power.
Visitors who join Kiep Bac Temple Festival seem to live in the same atmosphere as when Tran Quoc Tuan arrayed his troops in the bank. The Vietnamese are very proud of the glorious traditions of their nation.