Pagoda pro­vides spir­i­tual strength

The Ñænh Mieâu Pagoda has wit­nessed many ups and downs through the na­tion's his­tory, in­clud­ing the time lo­cal hero Leâ Lôïi raised his troops to fight the Chi­nese Ming in­vaders.

Outlook - - HISTORY - By Trònh Sinh* and Trung Hieáu

Ven­er­a­ble Thích Nguyeân Haûi, the ab­bot of Ñænh Mieâu Pagoda, also known as the Cats Pagoda (Chuøa Meøo) in Lang Chaùnh District, proudly says the pagoda plays an im­por­tant role in the spir­i­tual lives of lo­cal res­i­dents, many of whom are eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

"Our main fes­ti­val is held an­nu­ally on the 6th and 7th days of first month in the lu­nar cal­en­dar, but we also hold other Bud­dhist rit­u­als the fourth and the sev­enth month," said the 34year-old monk.

The pagoda, lo­cated on a hill in Chieàng Ban Vil­lage of Quang Hieán Com­mune, has a long his­tory be­hind it. Its strange name can be traced back to the Traàn dy­nasty (1225-1400).

Its full name Ñænh Mieâu thieàn töï means "The pagoda on Meøo Moun­tain peak”. Ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, a lot of wild cats used to in­habit the moun­tain in olden times, and that's why it was called Cats Mount.

The pagoda re­mained de­serted and was dev­as­tated by years of war and with the pas­sage of time, but has been re­stored re­cently, monk Haûi said. Also, cer­tain fes­ti­vals were re­vived to at­tract visi­tors.

As per the feng shui the­ory, the pagoda is very favourably lo­cated. On the left, it has the "Blue Dragon el­e­ment" which is the Puø Baèng Moun­tain, and on the right it has the "White Tiger el­e­ment" which is the Puø Rinh Moun­tain. A river flows in front of the pagoda.

This sa­cred po­si­tion has made the pagoda fa­mous in the re­gion, and it is also con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful pago­das in Thanh Hoùa Prov­ince. The an­cient pagoda also re­tains some fea­tures of a re­li­gious cen­tre in the old days.

In re­cent years, the pagoda has been grad­u­ally ren­o­vated, bring-

Many events against for­eign ag­gres­sion dur­ing the Leâ Dy­nasty oc­curred in Lang Chaùnh and near the pagoda. Maybe that's why the pagoda is sa­cred.

ing to­gether many eth­nic mi­nori­ties in the re­gion who have ac­tively par­tic­i­pated in restor­ing work.

The pagoda and the whole re­gion have wit­nessed many ups and downs in the na­tion's his­tory, es­pe­cially when na­tional hero Leâ Lôïi (1385-1433) raised his troops to fight the Chi­nese Ming in­vaders. Leâ Lôïi also trained his in­sur­gent army in the area.

Lo­cals said Oi Vil­lage was the site where the in­sur­gents prac­tised. The vil­lage is now named Quang Lôïi. Ac­cord­ing to the Ñaïi Vieät söû kyù

toaøn thö (Great Vieät Com­plete Chron­i­cles), the ini­tial ar­du­ous steps of Leâ Lôïi's in­sur­gent army were in the area near the pagoda.

In 1418, the first year of the re­volt against the Ming ag­gres­sors, Leâ Lôïi and his troops am­bushed and killed 3,000 en­emy troops and cap­tured many weapons. Then they moved to Puø Rinh Moun­tain near the Cats Pagoda.

Also that year, the in­sur­gents won an­other bat­tle in Möôøng Yeân in the re­gion. Möôøng Yeân is in the west of Puø Rinh Moun­tain.

In May 1419, Leâ Lôïi and his troops suc­cess­fully am­bushed the Ming troops in Möôøng Chaùnh (Lang Chaùnh District to­day).

In 1420, Leâ Lôïi's forces am­bushed the Ming troops, killed a count­less num­ber of en­emy sol­diers and caught more than a hun­dred horses, and then moved to rest in Möôøng Nanh (in Lang Chaùnh to­day).

Af­ter the re­sis­tance war against the Ming suc­cess­fully ended, Leâ Lôïi es­tab­lished the Leâ dy­nasty (1427-1789).

Dur­ing the reign of King Leâ Thaùnh Toâng (Leâ Lôïi's grand­son), Lang Chaùnh was at­tacked by Lao troops in 1479 but they were de­feated.

Many suc­cess­ful bat­tles against for­eign ag­gres­sion dur­ing the Leâ Dy­nasty oc­curred in Lang Chaùnh and near the pagoda. That's why the pagoda is sa­cred.

Leg­end also has it that dur­ing

the early, ar­du­ous time of the re­sis­tance war against Ming troops, Leâ Lôïi and his army ar­rived in the pagoda to burn in­cense for Bud­dha to pray for vic­tory.

Af­ter de­fend­ing the in­vaders, Leâ Lôïi be­came king and is­sued a de­cree to re­name the pagoda as Chuøa Meøo (Cats Pagoda).

The pagoda has a pre­cious bell. The pagoda's name is in­scribed on the shoul­der of the bell with eight Han Chi­nese letters that read: "Notes about the mak­ing of the Cats Pagoda bell".

The time the bell was cast is also clearly etched as the end of the spring of 1718, when Vieät Nam was un­der the reign of King Leâ Duï Toâng.

The large bell can be clas­si­fied as Ñaïi Hoàng Chung (Gi­ant Red Bell), and has a height of 1.09m and the di­am­e­ter of its mouth is 0.5m.

Its strap is shaped as two sym­met­ric dragons with kylin’s noses, long manes, bat ears, bod­ies cov­ered with fins, and sharp claws.

The bell has six knobs to strike. This in­tact bell has high value art, with a clear date, sharp and pre­cise pat­terns and is ev­i­dence of the art her­itage of a his­toric era.

Per­haps, this type of Leâ bell is too rare and so pre­cious.

Aside from its artis­tic value, the in­scrip­tions en­graved on the bell tell us many things about the his­tory of the Leâ dy­nasty in a re­gion which is the base of the Lam Sôn in­sur­gents.

In the book Lam Sôn Thöïc Luïc (Lam Sôn An­nals) writ­ten in 1431, na­tional hero Leâ Lôïi pro­claimed him­self as "Leader of Lam Sôn Caves". This proved he was the leader who gath­ered many eth­nic mi­nor­ity peo­ple in the moun­tain­ous re­gion of Thanh Hoùa for the in­sur­rec­tion.

Dur­ing the hard­est time of the in­sur­rec­tion, Leâ Lôïi also de­pended on the sup­port of the peo­ple in the Lang Chaùnh re­gion.

His suc­ces­sors also brought into play the tra­di­tion of na­tional unity in this land, that was de­picted in the in­scrip­tions on the bell.

The bell also notes that "many peo­ple from vil­lages in Thanh Hoùa" con­trib­uted to­wards cast­ing this huge bell. They in­clude dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups, as well as com­mon peo­ple and man­darins. The in­scrip­tions also high­light the con­tri­bu­tions of monks and sev­eral of­fi­cials.

One thing worth not­ing was that dur­ing the bell cast­ing cer­e­mony, the mother's role was men­tioned sev­eral times, such as the names of Phaïm Thò Minh and Trònh Thò Toá, the moth­ers whose sons were main donors. That was a way to hon­our the moth­ers al­beit through a few words en­graved for­ever.

Through the in­scrip­tion on the bell, we also see the at­tach­ment between the dif­fer­ent ar­eas in Thanh Hoùa in the early 18th cen­tury, when a ma­jor event like the bell cast­ing cer­e­mony at­tracted par­tic­i­pa­tion of not only lo­cals in Lang Chaùnh District but also peo­ple from Thieäu Hoùa District, al­though th­ese two re­gions were far apart.

This is one thing that needs to be ex­plained while study­ing the re­la­tion­ship between the Möôøng and Vieät vil­lages, and the mi­gra­tion of peo­ple through­out his­tory.

It should also be noted that the area to­day is Quang Hieán Com­mune, home to dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups - the Möôøng ac­count for 60 per cent, the Thaùi 30 per cent and the Vieät (Kinh 10 per cent. This is a multi-eth­nic re­gion and has re­mained un­changed so far.

The na­tional hero Leâ Lôïi counted on the strength of eth­nic sol­i­dar­ity that led to the glo­ri­ous vic­tory af­ter the 10-year re­sis­tance against the Ming in­vaders.

The bell has an­other qual­ity - when we tried to strike at the sound knob, its sound echoed across quite a long dis­tance.

As we read the in­scrip­tion on the bell again, it said that the bell was al­ready fa­mous as "the bell echo is on top, be­cause it can awake a ma­jor­ity of liv­ing be­ings from a state of coma". It re­minded us to think about the tal­ent of the ar­ti­sans in Thanh Hoùa, who knew how to caste bronze drums and bells, and the fa­mous bronze cast­ing vil­lages such as Traø Ñoâng Vil­lage.

As Ven­er­a­ble Thích Nguyeân Haûi says: " The bell is be­ing con­sid­ered for recog­ni­tion as a Na­tional Trea­sure. If you have time, please visit the pagoda."


The an­cient bell of Cats Pagoda at­tracts many visi­tors.

The Cats Pagoda leads the spir­i­tual lives for lo­cal res­i­dents.

Bud­dhist monks per­form a rit­ual at the pagoda.

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