LAN BACH LE THAI 1
The Portrait of the Fairy
In the early days of the Le dynasty, there lived at Bich-Cau village2 a young scholar named TU-UYEN. He was known far and wide, for he came from a family of distinguished scholars, and was brought up in the world of books. He spent most of his time studying hard, reciting aloud his favourite prose selections and poems, intoning the words with great pleasure.
There were dozens of fair and rich young maidens who would have liked to marry him if he had asked them, but he wished to marry none of them.
One day, in the middle of the Spring Festival, he decided to go in the open air to enjoy spring time and the warm sun. He went alone, for to wander thus was his chief delight.
It was very beautiful in the country. Nature was luxuriant and wonderful. The rice-fields were green, the trees were swaying to and fro under the fresh wind and wild flowers peeped among the verdant meadows. The sun shone brightly upon him as upon the gardens and fields. He turned towards the warm sun, looked up to the sky and listened to the birds singing in the air.
« How lovely it is when spring comes » he thought. « The sun warms me and the wind plays with me. Oh ! how greatly I am blessed ! I wish this could last for ever. »
Then he went on and on along the winding road skirted by tall fruit-trees bending under their heavy load of golden fruit. The roses opened their pink or red or white petals and sent forth a fragrance wonderfully sweet and strong and this was the way they greeted spring. Everything was so fresh and delightful that TU-UYEN walked and walked, admiring and wondering and forgot the time.
At last, the evening drew on, and the sky gleamed like gold under the full moon.
TU-UYEN went back home and when he passed by the richly carved Tien-Tich pagoda3, he beheld the most beautiful maiden in the world under a blossoming peach-tree. It was clear that from her slim and tapering fingers, her delicate figure, her smooth silken complexion, her beautiful dress and her noble bearing that she was not an ordinary woman. She was dreamy and ethereal like a fairy, with the moonlight playing on her white face and bright eyes.
Fascinated by her, he grew bold, bowed to her politely and said :
« Most honoured lady, as the night is drawing near, may your humble servant, the unworthy scholar of Bich-Cau village2 accompany you to your distinguished abode ? ». The beautiful maiden curtsied back in the most graceful and courteous manner and said she would be delighted and grateful to be taken home by the young man.
Then they walked side by side, emulating each other in making alternate love songs and clever poems.
But when they came to the Quang-Minh temple4, the lady vanished, and it was only then that TU-UYEN realized he had met a « Tien » (fairy).
When he reached his home, he kept on thinking of the beautiful lady he had met, and who he supposed was now dwelling far away above mountains and forests. He did not speak to anyone of his great sorrow — for of course, he was deeply in love with her, and missed her so very much. He lay in his bed, dreaming of her, « neglecting to sleep during the five watches of the night, and to eat during the six parts of the days». He caught the mysterious « Tuong-Tu » disease, the sort of love-sickness which no medicine could cure. Silently, he prayed to the gods that he might die soon, so that he could be with her in another world for he was convinced that he would meet her again somehow. He prayed and prayed until one night a white haired and bearded man appeared to him in his dream and told him to go to the Eastern bridge on the To-Lich river the next day to meet the maiden he loved.
As soon as day-break came, he forgot all his sickness, set off for the appointed place and waited. He stayed there for hours without seeing anyone. Finally when he was about to give up, he met a man selling a picture of a woman looking exactly like the one he had met under the blossoming peach- tree that day. He bought the picture, took it home and hung it on the wall of his study. His heart warmed as he lovingly contemplated the picture. And he caressed it, whispering ardent words of love and devotion to it.
During the day, he would stop his reading, throw away his books and go to look at it. He would get up in the middle of the night, light a candle, take the picture and gave it a warm kiss as if it were a real human being.
He was now completely cured of his sickness, and was happy.
One day, when he was thus admiring the picture, the maiden suddenly moved her eyelids, winked and smiled sweetly at him.
Taken aback, he rubbed his eyes and stared at her but she grew taller and taller, and stepped forth from the picture, making a deep bow to him.
… continue in Section 2 …
1 : R.W. PARKES’ Foreword introduces LE THAI BACH LAN and her short-stories books: “Mrs. Bach Lan has assembled an interesting selection of Vietnamese legends for which I am glad to write a brief foreword. These tales, well and simply translated by the author, have considerable charm, derived in no small part from the sense they convey of familiar human situations clothed in exotic dress. Here, in tropical settings, we have faithful lovers, jealous wives, unkind stepmothers, the stuff of which so many Western folk stories are made. One story indeed is Cinderella over again. I trust that this little book will find many readers and stimulate friendly interest in a country whose present-day problems are regrettably better known than her past culture. Saigon, 26th February 1958.”
3 : Tien Tich Pagoda (110 Le Duan street, Cua Nam Ward, Hoan Kiem District) has been build at the beginning of King Le Canh Hung‘s reign (1740-1786). The temple is located in the Cua Nam area, one of the four gates of the old Thang Long citadel.
Legend has it that during the Ly dynasty, there was a lost prince who was taken back by the fairies, so the King built this temple to thank the fairies. Another legend recounts that, when the King went to Kim Au lake, he saw a vestige of Tien descended on the earth near the lake and built a temple named Tien Tich (the trace of Tien).
The pagoda was built in the shape of Dinh including Tien Duong, Thien Huong and Thuong Dien. The structure here is mainly brick, tile and wood. In the temple, the system of 5 Buddhist altars is placed higher in the upper palace, on which decorated the statues of Buddhism. Most of these statues were made under the Nguyen dynasty, nineteenth century.
Tien Tich pagoda was expanded by Lord Trinh at the beginning of King Le Canh Hung (1740) and was a victory in the area. The pagoda was restored in the 14th Minh Mang reign (1835) and is continuously repaired and perfected.
According to the old history books, Tien Tich pagoda was very large in the past, the stone pavement was charming, the scenery was beautiful, the lake was cool, and the fragrance of lotus was fragrant.
Tien Tich Pagoda has experienced many ups and downs of history, with many events of time, although it has changed a lot in appearance, but so far, it still bears strong historical, scientific and art.
The presence of relics to this day and relics such as bronze bells and steles are valuable sources reflecting the indispensable existence of Buddhism in the daily life of the people. This is also a valuable resource for researchers to learn about Vietnamese Buddhism, about Thang Long–Hanoi history. It helps us to visualize the landscape of the land of the economy, to understand a part more about the royal life, the ancient king.
So far, in terms of architecture, art, Tien Tich pagoda has been preserved quite intact in terms of form, structure, religious architecture under the Nguyen Dynasty. The system of round statues has high aesthetic value, the statues of the pagoda are meticulously processed, elaborate and creative. These artifacts in addition to artistic value are also a valuable heritage block of the national cultural heritage treasure. (Source: Hanoi Moi – hanoimoi.com.vn – Translation: VersiGoo)
◊ Contents and images – Source: Vietnamese Legends – Mrs. LT. BACH LAN. Kim Lai An Quan Publishers, Saigon 1958.
◊ Featured sepiaized images has been set by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com.
BAN TU THU