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The lengend of Hanoi's To Lich river (part 2)

In the 10th century, Viet Nam won back its independence. In the year 1010, the founder king of the Lý dynasty had the capital transferred from the highlands to the lowlands, locating it at the site which he named Thang Long. He honoured To Lich with the title of “Great Lord Tutelary Spirit of Thang Long, the National Capital” ( Quoc Do Thang Long Thanh Hoang Dai Vuong). Some believe that the sanctuary dedicated to him is the present-day Bach Ma (White Horse) temple standing at 76 Hang Buom in the Old Quarter of Ha Noi.
According to more authoritative legend, this temple is dedicated to the god of the locality of Long Do (Navel of the Dragon). At the time of the building of the Dai La Citadel, the Chinese proconsul Cao Bien was said to have seen in dream this god in the midst of a rainbow-coloured cloud borne by a golden dragon. He ordered a temple built to that god within the Citadel on a hillock called Mount Nung but took care to have copper and iron buried on that site with a view to exorcising the supernatural being.
However, a typhoon accompanied by lightning destroyed the buried metals, which was evidence of the vitality and power of Long ĐỖ which incarnated Vietnam. The god took the form of a white horse which helped build the QtadeL
A king of the Ly dynasty who established the capital of independent Viet Nam in Thang Long (now Ha Noi) honoured the god with the title of “Lord General and Prime Minister” (Dai Vuong Thuong Tuong Thai Su) and move the temple to the present site of Bach Ma. In any event, the area called Long Do and crossed by the To Lich was to play a prominent role in the political and cultural life of Thăng Long and indeed all of Viet Nam.
The To Lich joined the Red River at a place now called the Rice Market (Pho Cho Gao) in the Old Quarter. In the period of the Ly-Tran dynasties (11th to 14th centuries), together with West Lake, it was part of a beautiful landscape spanned by graceful bridges and frequented by pleasure boats of the court and the aristocracy.
Along the centuries, the stream, originally more than 30 kilometers long, has almost entirely filled. At present, only three stumps of it remain.
The first begins at the mouth of the old river, crosses the present old Quarter and comes to the wall of the old, Citadel in the west, forming natural moat for defence. Along its course stood the Temple of the White Horse and the market of the Eastern Bridge made famous by the legend of the meeting between the scholar Ttí Uyên and the image dealer who gave him the portrait of the beloved fairy Bich Cau Ky (The Legend of the Blue Stream) and also by the ironical folk song:
"The old woman goes to the market of the Eastern Bridge
Where she asks a soothsayer about the "loi" that may come to her through marriage
The soothsayer consults his oracular coins and says:
There may be some gum staying with you but no teeth."
(There is here an untranslatable play on woods: “loi” means advantage, and also gum).
Along the course of the stream were the “36 streets and guilds” with their dense and active population.
The second stump of the To Lich flows north towards West Lake then turns and travels south. It crosses the village of Buoi, well-known for its making of hand-made paper and lĩnh sateen, then the vegetable growing Lang village,once famous for the hung (an aromatic nerb) grown there.
At the southern tip of Lang, the To Lich turns southeast to Thanh Liet district where it flows past prosperous farming villages with traditional crafts and the native places of eminent political and cultural figures.
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Update : 14-11-2017


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