April 8, 2008

The Legend of Hoan Kiem Lake

Translated from Nguyen Khac Phi et al. (2002) Grade 6th Philology, Vol.1, pp.39- 41.

During the early part of the 15th century (from 1407 to 1427), Vietnam was ruled by the Minh empire from China. The Minh considered Vietnamese to be less than human, and treated the Vietnamese people cruelly. As a result, the Vietnamese felt a deep hatred for their oppressors. At that time, in the Lam Son area (Tho Xuan district, Thanh Hoa province), a rebel army rose up against the Minh enemy. However this army was quickly defeated because they did not have the soldiers or resources needed to defeat the Minh. To help in their fight, King Lac Long Quan (Dragon God) decided to lend the rebel army a magic sword to defeat the enemy.

At that time, there was a fisherman living in Thanh Hoa province named Le Than. One night, Le Than cast his net into the quiet river as usual. As he pulled out the heavy net, Le Than was expecting to see many fish trapped inside. However, instead he saw a long piece of metal in his net. He threw it back into the water, and recast the net at a different location. Pulling the net in a second time, Le Than saw that somehow the long metal piece had found its way back into his net. He picked it up and threw it again into the river. Pulling in his net for a third time, the same long metal piece was once again caught in his net. Surprised, he brought the metal closer to a flame and examined the strange object. Suddenly he cheered, ?Ah ha! A sword blade!?

After this incident, Le Than joined the rebel army and bravely and ardently fought against the Minh enemy. One day, while Commander Le Loi and some of his soldiers were visiting Le Than, they noticed the sword blade in the corner of Le Than's dark house and saw that it was becoming brighter.  Le Loi held the blade up and saw two words, "Thuan thien" (Will of Heaven) carved into the sword blade. However none of them realised how precious the sword was.

One day, Le Loi and his army were being chased by Minh enemy. They retreated into the forest. Suddenly, Le Loi noticed a light on the top of a banyan-tree. He climbed up and found the handle of a sword, encrusted with precious gems. Remembering the blade at Le Than?s house he took the handle and attached it to his belt.

Three days later, at a meeting, Le Loi told everyone, including Le Than, about the handle. They tried connecting the handle and blade together and found, much to their surprise, that the handle fit perfectly with Le Than's sword blade. Le Than raised the whole sword above his head and said to Le Loi, ?It is God's will that Your Majesty leads us in our great challenge. We will follow Your Majesty with this magic sword to free the land?.

From that point onwards, Le Loi and his army became stronger. With the magic sword in hand, Le Loi won every battle, and frightened the Minh fighters. News of the rebel army?s newfound power spread throughout the land. Le Loi?s army no longer had to hide in the forest, and instead aggressively raided and captured many enemy camps, seizing their granaries. The sword helped Le Loi?s army to push back the enemy, until Vietnam was once again free from Chinese rule.

One day, a year after having successfully defeated the Minh army, Le Loi, who now had become a King took a ride on a dragon boat around Ta Vong lake (in the center of Hanoi).  The Dragon God saw Le Loi?s boat and sent a golden turtle to ask for the magic sword back. When the boat crossed the middle of the lake, the giant turtle emerged, its head and shell breaking the surface of the water. Le Loi ordered the captain to slow down. Standing at the front of the boat, the King noticed that the magic sword on his belt was moving on its own. The golden turtle was not scared of humans. It swam alongside the boat and said with a human voice, "Your Majesty, could you please return the sword to King Lac Long Quan??

King Le Loi gave the sword to the turtle. The turtle swam up and took the sword in its mouth, as quick as lightning. After the turtle and the sword had descended back into the water, the King could still see its flickering light from the surface of the water.

Since then, Ta Vong lake has been called Hoan Kiem lake (Lake of the Returned Sword).
Translator Notation: Historically Hoan Kiem lake was known also as Ta Vong lake or Luc Thuy lake (Green lake) until King Le Loi returned the sword in the 15th century, at this point the name was change to Hoan Kiem Lake (The lake of the restored sword. The lake located in the center Hanoi, Vietnam.

References:

Nguyen Khac Phi, Nguyen Dinh Chu, Nguyen Minh Thuyet, Tran Dinh Su, Bui Manh Nhi, Nguyen Quang Minh and Do Ngoc Thong (2002) Grade 6th Philology, volume 1 (fourth reprinted), Educational Publishing house, pp. 39- 41.

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