For generations, the Vietnamese have considered the Hung Kings the founders of the country and the fathers of the nation. Every year, in the third month of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people from all over the world gather in Phu Tho to visit the Hung Kings Temple, pray for good weather and peace, and show their gratitude to the ancestors. Associate Professor, Truong Quoc Binh of the Vietnam Art and Culture Institute says that over thousand years, rituals to worship ancestors have become a national tradition. This is a unique phenomenon in the world. The entire Vietnamese nation remembers this origin, and recognizes a single burial place and a single date which to memorialize the Hung Kings, the founders of the Vietnamese nation. Pham Ngoc Chuc from Hanoi elaborated ‘Since I retired, almost every year, I make a pilgrimage to Phu Tho with my children to participate in the processions. This is a way to teach younger generations to remember our origin and our tradition of worshiping our ancestors. I’m proud that the ritual has been recognized as a world heritage.‘
There are several places across Vietnam to worship the Hung Kings. Pham Minh Giang who lives in Ho Chi Minh City said ‘During the Tet holiday, besides going to pagodas, I often visit the Hung Kings Temple in the botanical garden and pray. I feel proud to be their descendants. This feeling is even stronger when I go to the Hung Kings Temple in Phu Tho province.‘
Worshiping the Hung Kings is not just a devotional activity, but also a social activity to express communal solidarity.
According to historians, no other country in the world worships ancestors like Vietnam. That’s one reason the Hung Kings worshiping ritual was submitted to UNESCO for recognition as a world intangible cultural heritage. Le Thi Minh Ly, Director of the Cultural Heritage Research and Preservation Center of Vietnam’s Cultural Heritage Association was involved in the preparation of documents on the Hung Kings ritual for UNESCO. Ly said ‘It was a difficult task because, culture, religion, belief, and rituals are multi-dimensional factors which require a comprehensive overview. The community plays an important role in preserving heritages and the traditional rituals of ancestor worship’.
To date, the Hung Kings ritual is the only one recognized by UNESCO. This ritual embodies the Vietnamese tradition of “Drinking water, remember the resources”.
For the Vietnamese, to return to Phu Tho, the land of the Hung Kings each year is to return to their source. The Hung Kings ritual is a spiritual fulcrum for consolidating national unity.