Vietnam Art Books -- Kiep Bac Temple and Saint Tran (September 07, 2005)

Kiep Bac Temple and Saint Tran (September 07, 2005)

Located in Hung Dao commune in northern Hai Duong province’s Chi Linh district, Kiep Bac Temple is dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, or Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan, a talented general under the Tran Dynasty.

Tran Hung Dao (1226-1300) was the general who led Viet people to defeat Mongol invaders three times in 1258, 1285 and 1288.

Tran Quoc Tuan was son of An Sinh Vuong Tran Lieu, the elder brother of King Tran Thai Tong. He was the author of Hich Tuong Si (Appeal to officers and soldiers) and two military works Binh Thu Yeu Luoc (Manual on military basics) and Van Kiep Tong Bi Truyen (Esoteric manual of Van Kiep).

Because of his merits to the nation, he was proclaimed a saint, called as Duc Thanh Tran (Saint Tran), and has been worshiped at temples in many parts of the country, of which Kiep Bac is considered the most famous and sacred one.

From Hanoi, drive along the National Highway No. 1 some 30 kilometers to Bac Ninh town, then go along National Highway No.18 some 30 kilometers you reach the Kiep Bac Temple.

Kiep Bac is the junction of Van Yen hamlet in Kiep village and Duoc Son hamlet in Bac village and located in a rich valley surrounded by the Nui Rong (dragon mountain). The surroundings give Kiep Bac a secretive, poetic, and dreamy quality.

Some 700 years ago, Kiep Bac was a jungle and near to the place where Hung Dao Vuong headquartered.

According to a legend, he one day found his hunting dog leaving and asked his subordinates to look for the dog. People later found the dog with its newly born puppies at a nearby plain of reeds. When people brought the dogs back, it continued carrying its puppies to that plain again and again. Surprised, Hung Dao Vuong arrived at the scene and discovered that the site was located in a valley next to the Thuong River and surrounded by Nam Tao and Bac Dau mountains, making it ideal for the establishment of the command base. So he then moved his command base and stayed there during the wars against the Mongol invaders in 1285 and 1288.

After having restored peace, he returned there to spend his old age peacefully and died in 1300. According to Dai Viet Su Ky (Annals of Dai Viet), on his deathbed, Hung Dao Vuong asked for his offspring to cremate and bury him in An Lac Garden and plant trees on his grave. So, nobody knows exactly the location of his grave.

A temple was built in the beginning of the 14th century in the center of Kiep Bac valley to commemorate Tran Hung Dao and the temple has mostly remained intact during the past centuries.

Passing through the gate with simple architecture, you reach a well called “dragon’s eye”, which was found by Yet Kieu, a reliable subaltern of Hung Dao Vuong, some 700 years ago. The well has recently been restored after many centuries being ignored, and nowadays it still supplies clear water from the Dragon Mountain.

In the temple stand bronze statues of Tran Hung Dao, his wife, his two daughters and famous generals under the Tran Dynasty such as Pham Ngu Lao, Yet Kieu and Da Tuong. In the exhibition house in the temple’s campus one can see the legs’ bones of the elephant that Hung Dao Vuong used to ride when he went out to battle. The elephant got bogged down at the Hoa River in a fight against the Mongol aggressors. Local residents later brought the elephant’s bones to the Kiep Bac Temple and many visitors usually rub on the bones to pray for luck.

The Kiep Bac Temple Festival lasts from the 15th to 20th day of the eighth lunar month, which falls from September 18 to 23 this year, in commemoration to Tran Hung Dao, or Saint Tran. One of the most interesting activities in the festival is the race on the Luc Dau River, where hundreds of boats compete.

The racing boats, urged along by drumming sounds and the cheering of excited spectators, rush like flying arrows through the air. Going to the Kiep Bac Temple Festival, one relives the spirit of the days when Tran Quoc Tuan were deploying his troops into a battle-array, feeling so proud of the nation’s glorious traditions.

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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