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.
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.