July 4, 2008
Hue festival gets bigger and better
by Cam Giang
Fifteen years since Hue city won global recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city’s internationally-renowned annual festival has been getting bigger and better. This year’s celebration, already in full swing, is no exception.
Over 60 arts troupes from Viet Nam and abroad have flocked to the event, held under the theme “Cultural Heritage with Integration and Development”. The action kicked off last Tuesday with a sparkling opening ceremony titled “Royal Palace Festival Night” at Ngo Mon (Noon Gate) Square inside the ancient Royal Citadel and will run over nine successive days and nights until the following Wednesday.
Along with the usual programme, including the Nam Giao Ritual, Ao Dai (traditional long dress) Festival and Royal Night, visitors will be treated to four new additions to the celebrations this year, says Ngo Hoa, deputy chairman of Thua Thien – Hue Province People’s Committee. “One of them is the Huong River Legends, which will bring history to life on the Huong (Perfume) River.”
On the nights of June 5 and 7, the river running through the centre of Hue City was transformed into a watery Milky Way with thousands of glittering candles arranged along its banks.
From nothing more than an old sketch and romantic imaginations, organisers gave 12km of the Huong River a colourful makeover. The newly built 100-seat Royal Boat, which holds the record as being the biggest wooden boat in Viet Nam, and 20 Dragon boats, carried 500 visitors along the river, installation pieces and lighting performances illuminating their path.
When the fleet arrived at Hon Chen Temple, a dramatisation of the King burning incense sticks at the Temple took place while in Nghinh Luong Dinh Pavilion, a three-level stage was set up for traditional singing, poem-reading, dancing and musical performances set against a background of projected images of Hue.
Ending on a high note, the cruise paused to watch a fireworks display at Nghinh Luong Dinh Pavilion.
Another highlight during the nine-day event is a lavish re-enactment of the Xa Tac Devotion Ritual, appearing on the event list for the first time in 15 years.
Xa Tac Altar was built in 1806 during the Gia Long dynasty for the King to worship the two most fundamental ingredients to wet rice cultivation; rice and soil (Xa means soil and Tac means rice). The ritual was to become the one of the most important during the Nguyen dynasty, equal to those made to honour the dead Kings. It will be brought to life on June 10, with over 350 actors, decked out in authentic costumes and instruments.
The festival also includes another important scene from history – the Enthronement Ceremony of Emperor Quang Trung, a new addition to the festival. Hundreds of performers and martial artists took part in the event last Friday, accompanied by military bands from Tay Son – Binh Dinh Districts.
The performance re-visited the moment in 1788, when legendary hero Nguyen Hue told his people to level the pointed peak of Ban Mountain in Phu Xuan, Hue so he could build an altar to heaven and declare himself Emperor Quang Trung. The altar became a podium for the Emperor to rally support which later helped him to defeat an army of 290,000 Chinese invaders in Northern Viet Nam.
But not all the events at the festival have a regal flavour. Also eagerly anticipated is the Metropolitan Military Doctor Contest, held on Saturday for the first time in 139 years.
Originally, the contest included a series of events stretching over 50 consecutive days, including military strategy and tactic written tests as well as martial art skills. Since it was not possible to realise the whole process, this year’s contest only included events like reading the imperial edict and the performances from final-round competitors.
Already an established tourist hotspot, Hoa says this year’s larger-scale event is slated to attract 200,000 visitors, 34 per cent more than the festival in 2006. “But even without the extra activities, the city and the surrounding area have lots to offer tourists; pagodas, palaces, nearby royal tombs and traditional trade villages, not mention Truong Son Mountain and Tam Giang lagoon, and of course the charm of the Hue people themselves.” — VNS