Time: 5th day to 10th day of the 1st lunar month
Place: Lieu Doi (Li?u ?ôi) village, Liem Tuc (Liêm Túc) commune, Thanh Liem (Thanh Liêm) district, Ha Nam (Hà Nam) province.
Characteristics: to worship Thánh Ông (Male Saint) (a man with the family name Ðoàn, he gained feats of fighting against the invaders from the North; he was also the creator of the wrestling sports here).
Lieu Doi is a place of sporting tradition. There is a famous team of wrestlers here attracting wrestlers from other places to compete with them. There remain a lot of legends of the origin of the festival as well as the legends of wrestling and team of wrestlers.
Lieu Doi’s legend has it that, a young man of Doan (?oàn) family has the extraordinary power and the special ability of martial arts. He can defeat 5 competitors in the stage. One day, in Nuong Cui (N??ng C?i), a bright blue light ray frightened everybody but the Doan man. He came near it and realized that the light was from a sword placing in a red scarf. He kowtowed to the god, then held the sword, tied the red scarf around his waist and fenced in front of villagers.
- First is the procession of Saint to the stage: The stage is the place where wrestling contest is celebrated, the procession of Saint to the stage is to bring Saint Palanquin to the stage. Offerings consist of some truncated cones of sticky rice, some bananas, and a pot of tea (substituting for wine). An old man holding a mirror walking backwards at the beginning of the procession starts the worshiping ceremony.
- After that is the burning ceremony. A huge flame is lit to remind people of the ancient magic blue light from the burning sword in Nuong Cui.
- Next are ceremonies of sword delivering and red scarf tying to commemorate the young man Doan when he got the sword and the red scarf.
- Then Mr. Old Trum (Trùm) who is an honorable person and is responsible for keeping the largest drum delivers the sword from the Saint palanquin to a wrestler representative.
- Next comes the war flag dance, which is also called “superman going to the battlefield dance”. There are four participants in the dance, each holds a red square flag coming out from the two sides of the palanquin to the stage and then they dance in the sound of drumbeats. The sound ceremony comes afterwards, beginning with a roll of drumbeats from the largest drum as well as the sound from firecrackers, bell, gong, tocsin at the stage and from all temples and pagodas in the region. All create an exciting atmosphere.
- After all those rights, the game starts. There are also a lot of other rites during the game beginning with five sets of wrestling between the youngest boys. The youngest boys are the two last boys born in the last year. At the beginning, those two boys are called to wrestlers for five sets. However, they are, of course, too young to wrestle so their fathers wrestle with each other. But according to the rule, they only pretend to wrestler and are not allowed to make the partner fall for the reason that the game is a symbol showing their wish to villagers and the Saints that the two boys would become wrestlers in the future. Therefore, they two will be punished if any of them falls. If the father of the child is not at home, his grandfather will be the wrestler in the game. Quitting the game is unacceptable. Through this rite, Lieu Doi villagers want to teach their offspring that every boy has to become a wrestler.
- The next rite is local wrestlers as the starters, i.e. Lieu Doi wrestlers come to the stage first beginning the competition as to encourage the wrestlers from other places. When the wrestlers from other places feel excited, Lieu Doi wrestlers give the floor to them and stand outside as spectators. The person who wins 5 continuous sets can go into the second round. The person who wins all wrestlers in the second round will be given a special prize; the lower prizes include the first prize, second prize, third prize and honor prizes for all wrestlers. So, losers can also get prizes. Money from the contribution of visitors are spent on joss-sticks, the remains are spent on prizes and the poor if there’s any left. This sum of money is not admitted to be spent on other things.
- When standing on the stage, wrestlers have to wear no clothes but a loin-cloth. All wrestlers avoid taking off or putting on shirts from their right hand first because that is the hand to hold lances, swords, that hand is their strength when wrestling. They usually put on the shirt from their left hand, there for left hands are called shirt hands. On the stage, dangerous trick is forbidden; who commits this rule will be heavily punished. Rule breakers must stand in the middle of the stage and was thrown out of the stage by a stronger wrestler. Five coming generations of theirs will not be allowed to take part in wrestling festival.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen