Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The legend of Hoan Kiem Lake

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From: The Anthology of Vietnamese Folk Tales by Nguyen Dong Chi
Artwork by: Trinh Tuan

During the early 15th century, when Ming invaders were ravaging the land of Vietnam, the people endured immense hardships and suffering. Those who deeply loved their country gathered together to rise against the cruelty and oppression of the enemy forces.

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The valiant rebel army consisted mainly of simple peasants clad in rough clothes and wielding basic weapons. Their ranks remained meager, lacking the strength to confront the might of the Ming army head-on. The rebels faced repeated defeats.

Witnessing the rebels’ courage and patriotic spirit, the Dragon King (Lac Long Quan) decided to lend them a divine sword.

In the region of Thanh Hoa, a patriotic farmer named Le Than had long dreamt of joining the local Lam Son rebel forces. One day, while fishing in the river, his net was unusually heavy. “There must be plenty of fish here!” thought Le Than as he hauled up the net.

To his surprise, the net contained not a single fish but an old sword blade. When Le Than threw it back, it reappeared in his net three times. Intrigued, he carried the old sword blade back home and placed it in a corner.

Guom Lake

As the ranks of the Lam Son rebel forces grew stronger, Le Than finally joined them. He participated in crucial battles, making significant contributions to major victories and earning the trust of Le Loi, the rebel leader.

One day, Le Loi led his army through the region of Thanh Hoa and decided to rest at Le Than’s house. As they entered this dwelling, Le Loi and his generals noticed a radiant glow emanating from an old sword blade propped in a corner.  Intrigued, they approached and discovered that the sword blade was engraved with the words “Thuan Thien,” meaning “In Harmony with the Will of Heaven” – a sign of sure victory against the Ming invaders. Everyone was astonished, but they figured it was just an ordinary sword.

Thereafter, the rebels staged many battles to repel the Ming forces. Unfortunately, after suffering a defeat, Le Loi was pursued by the enemy deep into the forest. High in a tree he spotted something shiny. Curious, he climbed up to investigate and found the gem-encrusted hilt of a sword, shining brightly. He immediately remembered the glowing sword blade he had found in Le Than’s house and decided to bring the hilt with him.

Guom Return

When he met Le Than again, Le Loi told him about finding the shining hilt and asked to borrow the old sword blade. To their amazement, when they placed the hilt near the blade, both parts fit perfectly and the blade became dazzlingly radiant and incredibly sharp. Le Than and all present knelt before Le Loi and said: “This must be a sacred sword gifted by the heavens to help us fight the foreign invaders. Please wield this magical sword, lead our just cause, and drive the Ming invaders away, allowing our people to embrace a peaceful life.”

Accepting the divine sword from Le Than’s hands, Le Loi promised to devote his heart and soul to leading this righteous army in harmony with the will of heaven. Not long after, under Le Loi’s leadership and with the aid of the mystical sword, the rebel forces defeated the Ming army, and tranquility was restored to the land. Le Loi ascended the throne as the ruler of the nation.

One year later, the king and some loyal courtiers were leisurely rowing on Ta Vong Lake in the capital city. As the boat reached the center of the lake, out of the clear blue water, a golden turtle raised its head and spoke: “Your Majesty, in the past, the Dragon King lent you a divine sword to fight against the enemy. Now that the great mission has been accomplished, I humbly request that you return the divine sword.”

Le Loi immediately removed the divine sword from its scabbard and presented it to the golden turtle. To everyone’s surprise, the sword flew from the king’s hands into the open mouth of the turtle. With the sword in its jaws, the turtle vanished beneath the water.

Since that time, Ta Vong Lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake, or Lake of the Returned Sword.

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