The legend of Sword Lake
- on Jan 17, 2018       By: Hai Anh
Legend has it that Hoan Kiem Lake is where king Le Loi returned his magic sword to the Golden Turtle after defeating Minh empire and since then it has been named as the Sword lake or Restored Sword lake. In this article, we take you on a travel back in time to discover the histioric origin of this center pearl.
» The myth of the borrowing sword
Everywhere in Vietnam at that time, people were rising up against the domination of the Ming Empire (1406-1428). Long time ago, nearby the Chu river in Thanh Hoa province lived a fisherman named Le Than. On one fine night, Le Than was filled with joy thinking he was going to have a big catch. Pulling the net to the boat side, though, he saw the “catch” to be nothing but an iron bar resembling a blunt knife without handle. “Ah” Than sighed, “The only catch for the whole night and it turns out to be this worthless piece of iron”. Right after that Than threw the rusty iron bar away. Another night, Than cast his another section of the Chu river. After a while, seeing the water bubbling, he hurriedly pulled up his net and saw the same iron bar stuck in the net. Angry more than ever, he threw it away again. Then came another night and Than went fishing in late. At cockcrow, the man pulled up his net and feeling the bottom of the net with his hands, he found the same iron bar. But this time he decided not to throw it away. Bringing the iron bar onto the deck of the boat, he lit a fire in order to take closer look at his mysterious and persistent object. When Than had a chance to see it more clearly, he found out that it was not an iron bar at all: “Ah, a sword blade,” he exclaimed.
At this time, all over the country floods of people were joining Le Loi’s insurgent army. On the two banks of the Chu river, the sounds of horns blaring and the voice of commanders could be heard night after night. Le Than looked at his sword, thinking, “God has urged me to go to save my country”.
Than abandoned his boat and went to join Le Loi’s army. One night when the army had to spend a night in the forest, Than was put on guard over his camps. Le Loi, being a patrol, saw on one side of Le Than’s camp something shinning. He walked into the camp out of curiosity. It was the fisherman’s sword blade he had seen. Le Than took down the sword blade. Only it lacks a magic hilt to match”. Soon after that night, Le Loi and his followers lost a battle and had to retreat into the forest, each man had to find a place to hide, Le Loi took a shelter on the branch of an old banyan. There, he noticed nearby on another branch streaks of light that looked like fireflies or the scales of a python flashing in the night. Le Loi moved to this branch to get a closer look. At first sight, he mistook the strange light for a piece of rotten wood on which lived a phosphorescent centipede. But when he picked up the object it turned out to be a sword hilt made of horn. The gems inlaid in the hilt were shining brightly. Remembering the sword blade he saw in Le Than’s camp, Le Loi decided to unite the pair and tucked it in his waistband. On that day the army reunited, Le Loi told everyone about the hilt he has found in the forest. He Took out the hilt to be matched with Le Than’s sword blade. The two matched perfectly. Le Than and everyone else knelt down, shouting, “God has bestowed on you this magic sword.”
After this event, Le Loi’s army regained its strength. By contrast, the Ming troops became weaker from hardships and the pressure from Le Loi’s army and had to retreat. Using his magic sword, Le Loi began to win a battles against the invaders.
Finally, the Ming troops officially declared their surrender. After ten years of fighting, Le Loi’s army gained a glorious victory in 1427. The whole nation was unified and Le Loi was enthroned as king. The people live in peace.
» Return the sword
One beautiful day, Le Loi took a boat trip around Luc Thuy lake (Green water) in the centre of the capital city. It was early autumn, and lotus leaves were as green as the water surface. Suddenly, from under the lotus leaves emerged a huge tortoise. It had a raised back and looked as black as a bamboo boat. Then it raised it body. It clasped its two front legs and bowed to the king. “Now that peace has restored to the nation, please return the sword to our God of waters.” Le Loi immediately took out the sword that had remained tucked in his waistband since his victory. He respectfully raised the weapon above his sword remained and spread over the surface of the water. Since that time, the lakes has been named Ho Guom (Sword lake) or Ho Hoan Kiem (Restored Sword Lake).
» The Turtle Tower
At the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake is an islet on which stands a small tower called Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) with the structure honors the magic turtle that still guards the sword of Le Loi. The story goes that around 1886, a Vietnamese mandarin in the service of the French, persuaded the government to allow him to build a tower on the islet. What he kept secret was his intention to bury his father’s remains on the Turtle Islet, a place considered favorable according to traditional feng shui belief. However, the people of the city discovered his plot and they removed his father’s body. On the top of Turtle Tower there used to stand a version of the Statue of Liberty, placed there by the French. The statue was destroyed when the Tran Trong Kim government took over the city from the French administration in 1945.
Although only a shell of a building, with pointed Gothic arches not at all in the style of Vietnamese architecture, and built by one remembered as a traitor, Thap Rua has become an important symbol of both peace and patriotism to the people of Hanoi. The revolutionary flag was often hoisted here during the era of resistance to French rule. The green area around the tower is where the turtles bask in the sun and lay their eggs.
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