Community Hall in Vietnam
Community Hall (or Đình) is a public building in villages in Vietnam. It is public because it is a common property owned by the people of the village. It carries out three functions at the same time: administrative, religious and cultural. Administratively, Đình is the meeting and working place for the village officials. In Southern Vietnam, the nhà việc (also called nhà hội, nhà võ), the administrative centre of the village, is often built right behind, within the perimeter of the Đình. In terms of religion, Đình is the worshipping place for Thần Hoàng, the deity that is royally decreed with the duty to protect the villagers. Culturally, Đình is the physical building with the best architecture of the village. Every year, the celebration of the Kỳ Yên (ceremony to pray for peace) at the Đình is the biggest Festival of the village with the participation of all villagers.
In Northern Vietnam, there are many old Đình that have been built since the 16th century, such as the Đình Lỗ Hạnh, in Hiệp Hòa District, Province of Bắc Giang (believed to be built in 1576). In Southern Vietnam, only explored and reclaimed from the early 17th century, the oldest Đình were probably built at the end of the 18th century. A large number of Đình are now officially recognized by the government as “Historical – Cultural Sites.” Although there is no official statistics of the number of Đình for the whole country, we know for sure that it could be in the tens of thousands. Just in Ho Chi Minh City, three hundred Đình have been registered.
In spite of regional differences, in general, all Đình were built following certain standards. First, in terms of location, all Đình were constructed at sites carefully selected according to recognized Feng Shui principles. The principal direction of Đình is almost always the South, believed to be the direction favoured by deities. Surrounding Đình are planted big, tall trees that provide a lot of shade, such as banian trees, or silk cotton trees (bombax ceiba), or weeping fig (ficus stricta) in the North, or poplar, or dipterocarpaceae, or hopea in the South. In terms of structural plan, Đình in the South often include the following structures:
In addition to Thành Hoàng, the principally worshipped diety, most Đình worship many other deities of the Vietnamese pantheon. This Vietnamese pantheon, deeply influenced by the Chinese culture and mythology based on the Three Element System Sky-Earth-Man, always includes three components: 1) Thiên Thần (Celestial Deities, deities having sacred origin from the Sky); 2) Nhiên Thần (Natural Deities, deities representing the forces of the Nature—Earth—such as Sơn Thần (Deity of the Mountain), Thủy Thần (Deity of the Water), Thổ Thần (Deity of the Earth); and, 3) Nhân Thần (Human Deities, deities having human origin, who have been elevated to the rank of deities due to their special lives and achievements). Among the Celestial Deities, Thánh Mẫu Liễu Hạnh and Phù Đổng Thiên Vương (also called Thánh Gióng) are worshipped in most Đình in Northern Vietnam while Thánh Mẫu such as Chúa Ngọc, Chúa Tiên, Chúa Xứ, are worshipped in Đình in Central and Southern Vietnam. Among the Natural Deities, Thần Ngũ Hành (Deities of the Five elements; Thổ Thần – also called Ông Địa – is the most worshipped), Thần Hổ (Tiger Deity), and Thần Cá Voi (Whale Deity) are often worshipped. Among the Human Deities, national heroes and historical characters having great contributions to the Nation are most frequently worshipped. The Right Honourable Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, General of the Army, Marquis of Lễ Thành (Lễ Thành Hầu), who was chiefly responsible for the exploration and reclamation of the South, is being worshipped in numerous Đình in Southern Vietnam. The Main Hall, where altars for the deities are located, is always the best decorated hall with imposingly and beautifully engraved / carved / sculpted furniture and auxiliaries. In the South, in many Đình, statues of the deities are not to be found, instead, only the Chinese character for “THẦN” (Deity) 神 is displayed on the main altar.
All Đình in Vietnam organize annually vibrant and colourful festivals with the participation of all villagers. These festivals, sometimes lasting for a few days, are special cultural traits of the regions that attract foreign visitors as well as visitors from all over the country.
Due to these above-mentioned characteristics, Đình has become an important factor in the cultural life of the Vietnamese people. We can find the image of Đình in lovely folk song / folk poetry, such as:
Qua Đình ngả nón trông Đình
(Passing by Đình, I remove my hat to have a closer look at Đình)
Đình bao nhiêu ngói thương mình bấy nhiêu
(My love for you is uncountable like the number of tiles on the roof of Đình)
Trúc xinh trúc mọc đầu Đình
(The small bamboo is beautiful because it grows in front of Đình)
Em xinh em đứng một mình cũng xinh
(You are so beautiful that standing alone you are still beautiful)
Suggested Further Readings:
Front View of Đình Tây Đằng (Hà Tây)
Brick Front Screen of The Tiger
Đình Tân Hưng (Cà Mau)
Decoration Details of Main Hall
Đình Thổ Tang (Vĩnh Phúc)
Altar in Main Hall with The Chinese Character “THẦN”
Đình Đức Thắng (Thuận Hải)
Festival Day at Đình Yên Sở (Hà Tây)
Notes: All pictures in Appendices are taken from Đình Việt Nam = Community Hall in Vietnam by Hà Văn Tấn and Nguyễn Văn Kự.