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Vietnamese dragon: The Ultimate Guide

Vietnamese dragon

everything you need to know about the Vietnamese dragon

For a long time, the Dragon has been the legendary favorite animal of Asian countries. No other creature is as impressive as the Dragon.

Having said that, Vietnam is the country with the greatest admiration for the Dragon. Indeed, the Vietnamese are the only ones to see declared that they were the descendants of dragons. They even went so far as to give the name of this fantastic creature to their capital city.

The cultural, spiritual and national identity of Vietnam has been forged by various myths related to the Dragon. They originated in the Bronze Age, about 1000 years before Christ.

Carved wooden dragon Vietnamese Temple
Carved wooden dragon on a Vietnamese Temple

The Vietnamese Dragon, in prehistory

The Vietnam Dragon is a cross between crocodile, snake, cat, rat and bird.

It is important to know that historically, the Vietnamese lived near rivers. They therefore worshipped crocodiles like “Giao Long“, the first species of Vietnamese Dragon.

Thanks to objects from archaeology, we find different kinds of dragon. Here are two of them:

Crocodile-dragons, which have a crocodile head and a snake body.
The cat-dragons, which have a shorter head but a long neck. Their wings and dorsal fin are long lines. Their whiskers and and fur will be found more in the Dai Viet Dragon.

Giao Long dragon
Giao Long

The Vietnamese dragon: Symbol of prosperity and power

For the Vietnamese, the Dragon is a supernatural creature that symbolizes luck, intelligence, nobility and power. The Dragon is the “chief” of the 12 animals of the zodiac.

When parents have a baby in the year of the Dragon, they are very happy because it is the omen of prosperity!

The dragon also represents the supreme royal power.

For Vietnamese peasants, the dragon is a quadruple deity: cloud, rain, thunder and light.

Invocation of the Dragons

In the past, Vietnamese Dragons were associated with water. The population believed that the rains were made by dragons that took water from the sea and poured it into the rice fields.

As a result, the dragons were worshiped and invoked by the famous Dragon Dance.

dragon invocation monk

Vietnamese dragon: The sacred animal par excellence

Among the 4 sacred animals that Vietnam has, the one that occupies the first place is … the dragon, of course! It is followed by the unicorn, the tortoise and the phoenix.

The Dragon in Vietnamese Art

Whether through royal palaces, temples, pagodas or tombs, the dragon is very much represented in Vietnam.

Its majestic S curves are visible throughout Vietnam.

In Pagodas and Palaces, it always has its head raised, with a wide mouth holding a jade stone and a flame-shaped crest.

His image has evolved over time, according to the different dynasties that took him as their emblem.

Dragon Vietnamese Art
The Dragon and the Fairy by Xuan Quyen

The combination of the Dragon and the Phoenix

For the Vietnamese, when a Dragon and a Phoenix are together, it symbolizes the happiness of lovers, luck and fame.

The Dragon in the life of the Vietnamese

In the daily life of the people of Vietnam, the dragon occupies a central place. It can be found in the famous dragon dances, dragon boat races and children’s Dragon-Snake games.

Vietnam, which is S-shaped, is itself in the shape of a dragon.

Places named after the Dragon

In Vietnam, many places carry the word Long, which means Dragon. For example, we note for example :

🔹The Cuu Long River (Nine Dragons), in the Mekong Delta,
🔹Ha Long Bay (where the dragon descended), in northeastern Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO natural world heritage site in Quang Ninh Province, northern Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran.

The Dragons and Vietnamese Royalty

Like the Chinese kings, Vietnamese monarchs have taken the Dragon as the emblem of their power.

However, unlike the Chinese Dragon, which was depicted descending from the sky and belching flames, Vietnamese dragons rose from the water.

Even though they looked impressive and ruthless, the Vietnamese Dragons were never threatening.

Dragons and Vietnamese Royalty
Royal Vietnamese Dragon

The Legends of Lac Long Quân

A. Children of the dragon and the fairy

An important piece of information to know is that the Vietnamese have always called themselves the “Con Rong chau Tien“, which means “children of the dragon and the fairy”.

A long time ago, a magician king named Kinh Duong Vuong, who lived in Linh Nam, had the ability to walk on both land and water.

One day, during one of his expeditions, he crossed the road of Long Nu (meaning “the dragon girl”), who was the daughter of the dragon king of the sea (the Long Vuong).

A marriage will follow between these two characters, before giving birth to a beautiful child. This Herculean child will take possession of the throne under the name of Lac Long Quân. He will later be the Dragon King of Lake Viet (old name of Vietnam).

legend of lac long quan
Lac Long Quân

B. The triumphs of Lac Long Quân

Carried by the Dragon power of his mother, and by the enchantment of his magician father, Lac Long Quân crossed the various regions of Linh Nam to restore peace and serenity. The latter had been disturbed by evil creatures.

In the South Sea, he defeated the giant demonic fish, before cutting it into three pieces, one of which is the island of Bach Long Vi (the tail of the white dragon). It is located in the HaLong Bay.

Bach Long Vi

The Dragon King has once again distinguished himself by defeating the 9-tailed demon. The latter used to appear in human form and capture young ladies. He then sequestered them in a cave, before raping and murdering them.

After the demon’s death and the ruin of his cursed cave, the cave was transformed into the West Lake in Hanoi.

But that’s not all, Lake Long Quân also took over the demonic Evil Tree. The latter was forced to exile to the southwest.

C. Âu Cơ: The legend of the bag of 100 eggs

Once upon a time, a chief of a northern tribe wanted to conquer the country. He was with his troops and his daughter, Au Co. Lac Long Quân took the invaders to task and sent them home. However, he kept Au Co. and made her Queen.

Some time later, Queen Au Co was in possession of a sack that held about one hundred eggs. These hatched babies after a week. That’s why people in Vietnam regularly call themselves “dong bao”, which literally means “born from the same bag”.

Lac Long Quân and Âu Cơ
Lac Long Quân and Âu Cơ

These little beings grew up to become powerful and majestic young men. Lac Long Quân said to his wife, “I am of the race of the Dragons that live in the sea. You are of the race of fairies who live in the mountains. We have no choice but to separate. You are bringing fifty of our sons to the mountains. I will go to the sea with the other fifty”.

The bride and groom then separated. They founded two separate “clans”:

🔹The first being a tribe living on the coast and in the lowlands,
🔹The second populating the highlands.
The people of the highlands knew, thanks to their mother, how to clear the slopes in order to harvest rice, but also how to plant mulberry trees and how to apprehend silkworms.

As for the son of the Dragon, the eldest, who was among the “clan” of the father in the lowlands, he became king under the name Hung Vuong. He was the first of the Hong Bang dynasty, which had a total of 18 kings. This was the beginning of the 4000 years of Vietnam’s history.

Since then, the people of Vietnam have always proudly called themselves “con Rong chau Tien”. A temple in homage to Lake Long Quân has even been built in Phu Tho province, on the left bank of the Red River.

the legend of Con Rong Chau tien

The tale of the Dragon and the fairy were effective in fighting against foreign invaders, be they Chinese or French.

Indeed, a multitude of Vietnamese strategists, whether Confucian scholars or modern activists, took it up in order to galvanize the crowds.

For example, we note that in the 6th century, under China’s domination of Vietnam, resistance leader Trieu Quang Phuc founded a warrior camp in the swampy area of Lake Dam Da Trach. The latter had only just appeared. It was in fact the place where the demigod Chu Dong Tu, the demigod, had taken flight to the heavens. It was thought that a king Hùng would come from the heavens on a dragon. The latter would then give the heroic Vietnamese a claw of this fantastic animal, symbolizing indestructibility and legitimacy.

Trieu Quang Phuc
Trieu Quang Phuc

In the late 1920s, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party referred to the draconian legend to mobilize the people: “We are the children of the Southern Country of the Lac Viet race, from the Hong Bang dynasty. How could we resign ourselves to be oppressed?”

Later, in 1954, after defeating the French colonial army, the Vietnamese president reminded his troops, on the verge of liberating Hanoi, of the greatness of the Hùng Kings: “The Hùng Kings had the merit of creating our country. We, their descendants, must defend it”.

myth of the dragon and the fairy; the Scientific justification

We saw a little higher the myth of the Dragon and the Fairy. In fact, it would stem from a reality, which we could call “scientific”.

This myth is the mirror of the real path that led to the unification of the Vietnamese people, whose conquest of the Red River took a long time. The latter was only possible once the people, who were first creating in the foothills, had achieved sufficient development to project themselves into the construction of river and coastal dykes.

Legend also tells of the complementarity between the famous populations of the lowlands and highlands.

Rice paddies of Vietnam
Rice paddies of Vietnam

Dragons in the Vietnamese Dynasties

A. Dragons In the Ngô Dynasty (938-965)

On a brick in Cổ Loa, and dating from that time, the dragon is short. It has a cat body and a fish dorsal fin.

Ngo Quyen
Ngo Quyen

B. Dragons In the Ly Dynasty (1009-1226)

The Ly Dynasty is the one that founded the basis of the Vietnamese feudal culture.

In 1010, King Ly Thai To made Than Long (the Ascendant Dragon) the capital of Dai Viet (old name for Vietnam).

According to the legend, when the King’s barge arrived in Dai, the King saw a golden dragon in the sky. Considering this as a good omen, he named his capital Than Long (nowadays, it is called Hanoi).

 Ly Thai To
 Ly Thai To statue

From then on, the dragon represents nobility, royal power and even the Buddhist religion.

It takes shape in reality through artistic representations that are both sophisticated and unique.

King Ly built a complex of stores and inns up to the walls of an ancient temple, once dedicated to the Dragon deity. One night, the Dragon took the form of a violent storm and brought down all but the temple. Following this, King Ly said, “Behold the Dragon God, who takes charge of earthly affairs.

The Dragon of the Ly Dynasty is inspired by the mythical Naga of India, which the peoples of Southeast Asia had designated as the God of the Sea.

The head of this dragon is detailed and raised. He holds a jewel between his teeth. His mane, ears and beard are pulsating behind him, while his long, sinuous, supple and undulating body rises above the waves. It is composed of 12 parts, each representing a month of the year.

It can be found on a hexagonal stone pillar 5 five meters high in the Giam Pagoda in Bac Ninh Province. This pillar is estimated by art historians as a colossal linga.

dragon naga

C. Dragons In the Tran Dynasty (1226-1400)

Under the Tran Dynasty, the dragon has undergone a metamorphosis: although it has retained its sophisticated style, its body is longer and more powerful. It looks more robust.

It is even more detailed, with a large head, forked horns and ferocious claws. And he has also gained arms.

His new splendid and spectacular physical appearance breathes a new and powerful “wind”, inciting the people to stand up against the Mongolian invaders.

The Dragon Tran symbolized martial arts. Indeed, the Tran kings were the descendants of a Mandarin commander.

Dragons Tran Dynasty
Dragons In the Tran Dynasty

D. Dragons In the Lee Dynasty (1428 to 1788)

From the Lee Dynasty, the Dragon acquires a new appearance. Its head is raised, forked horn, broad forehead, prominent nose, large and powerful eyes, spread legs, five sharp claws per leg.

There is no doubt that this imposing dragon was intended to symbolize the king’s authority.

To find a dragon from the Lee epic, one can go to the wooden doors of Jeo Pagoda, for example, or to the royal stone bed in Dinh Temple.

E. Dragons In the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945)

Under the impulse of the Nguyen Dynasty, the dragons will undergo a new transformation. They will keep their magnificence, but will mix with the western artistic modernity.

The features of their faces are simplified. They appear softer and more prestigious. They have deer horn, a lion’s nave, canines highlighted, regular scales, curved moustaches.

Notable fact, dragons appear in the highest position: especially on the roofs of palaces.

The dragons of the Nguyen Dynasty are the ones that most resemble the typical dragons of present-day Vietnam.

Trip to Vietnam

Finally, you should know that there are trips to be made to discover the wonderful landscapes of Vietnam. Sublime itineraries and excursions will allow you to discover Vietnam … and its dragons!

For example, during a boat cruise, you can see a dragon on the Hoi An river. You can also discover the Dragon Bridge (Da Nang) or the dragon statue of the imperial city of Hue.

Or, the tomb (or mausoleum) of Khai Dinh (penultimate emperor of Vietnam) is accessible from majestic staircases decorated with dragons.

Change of scenery guaranteed!

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