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Vietnamese dragons (Vietnamese: rồng 龍) are symbolic creatures in the folklore and mythology of Vietnam. According to an ancient origin myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy.
To Vietnamese people, the dragon brings rain, essential for agriculture. It represents the emperor, the prosperity and power of the nation. Like the Chinese dragon, the Vietnamese dragon is the symbol of yang, representing the universe, life, existence, and growth.
The 5th-generation grandson of Shennong, Lạc Long Quân, king of the dragonkind living near the Đông sea, married a goddess, Âu Cơ who was the daughter of the birdkind king Đế Lai. Âu Cơ bore 100 eggs, which hatched into 100 sons. The first-born son became the king of Lạc Việt, the first dynasty of Vietnam, and proclaimed himself Emperor Hùng Vương. The First was followed by Hùng Vương The Second, Hùng Vương The Third and so on, through 18 reigns. This is the origin of the Vietnamese proverb: "Con Rồng, cháu Tiên" ("Children of Dragon, Grandchildren of Immortal Sages").
Historical development of Vietnamese dragon imageEdit
The Vietnamese dragon is the combined image of crocodile, snake, cat, rat and bird. Historically, the Vietnamese people lived near rivers, so they venerated crocodiles as "Giao Long", the first kind of Vietnamese dragon.
There are some kinds of dragons found on archaeological objects. One group is that of the crocodile-dragons, with the head of a crocodile and the body of a snake. The cat-dragon excavated on a glazed terracotta piece in Bắc Ninh has some features of Đại Việt period dragon: it does not have a crocodile head, its head is shorter and it has a long neck, its wing and backfin are long lines, and its whiskers and fur are found in the Đại Việt dragon image.
Ngô Dynasty (938–965)Edit
On the brick from this period found in Cổ Loa, the dragon is short, with a cat-like body and a fish's backfin.
Lý Dynasty (1010–1225)Edit
The Lý Dynasty is the dynasty which laid the foundation of Vietnamese feudal culture. Buddhism was widespread and Văn Miếu, the nation's first university, was created. The slender, flowing dragon of this period represents the vassal kingdom.
These dragons rounded bodies curve lithely, in a long sinuous shape, tapering gradually to the tail. The body has 12 sections, symbolising 12 months in the year. On the dragon's back are small, uninterrupted, regular fins. The head, held high, is in proportion with the body, and has a long mane, beard, prominent eyes, crest on nose (pointing forwards), but no horns. The legs are small and thin, and usually 3-toed. The jaw is opened wide, with a long, thin tongue; the dragons always keep a châu (gem/jewel) in their mouths (a symbol of humanity, nobility and knowledge). These dragons are able to change the weather, and are responsible for crops.
Trần Dynasty (1225–1400)Edit
The Trần Dynasty dragon was similar to that of the Lý Dynasty but looked more rugged. The Tran dragon had new details: arms and horns. Its fiery crest became shorter. Its slightly curved body became fat and smaller toward the tail. There are many kinds of tail (straight and pointed tail, spiral tail) as well as many kinds of scale (a regular half-flower scale, slightly curved scale).
The Tran dragon symbolised the martial arts, because the Tran kings were descended from a mandarin commander. The Tran era was also marked by a series of devastating invasions by the Mongol followed by repeated incursions by Champa.
Lê - Mạc DynastyEdit
In this period, the Vietnamese dragon's image was evolved into typical form of Vietnam's dragons. Differing from those of the previous dynasty, dragons in this age are not only represented in a curved posture among clouds but also in others. These dragons were majestic, with lion-heads. Instead of a fiery crest, they have a large nose. Their bodies only curve in two sections. Their feet have five sharp claws.
The dragon form of Nguyen dynasty is the typical dragon of Vietnamese. The dragon is represented with a spiral tail and a long fiery sword-fin. Its head and eyes are large. It has stag horns, a lion's nose, exposed canine teeth, regular flash scale, curved whiskers. Images of the Dragon of the emperor have 5 claws, was also decorated on the crown-prince's gown in motif of "dragon's face" with 4 claws. Dragons of Nguyen dynasty represent the powerful southern emperors with glory and honor.
Dragon in literatureEdit
Some proverbs and sayings mention dragons but imply something else:
"Rồng gặp mây": "Like dragons greeting clouds" – favourable conditions.
"Đầu rồng, đuôi tôm": "A dragon's head but a shrimp's tail" – something which starts well but ends badly.
"Rồng đến nhà tôm": "The dragon visits the shrimp's house" – A saying used to dictate behaviour between a host and their guest: the host must portray themselves like a humble shrimp and their guest like a noble dragon.
"Ăn như rồng cuốn, nói như rồng leo, làm như mèo mửa": "You consume like a coiled dragon, you talk like a climbing dragon, but your work is like cat's vomit" – A criticism of someone who talks the talk, but does not walk the walk
Vietnamese place-names, and other things, named after dragonsEdit
Ha Noi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, was known in ancient times as Thăng Long (from Thăng, meaning "to grow, to develop, to rise, to fly, or to ascend" and Long, meaning "dragon"); the capital is still referred to by this name in literature. In 1010, Emperor Lý Thái Tổ moved the capital from Hoa Lư to Đại La, which decision was explained in his Chiếu dời đô (Royal proclamation of moving capital): he saw a Rồng vàng (gold dragon) fly around on the clear blue sky, so he changed the name of Đại La to Thăng Long, meaning "Vietnam's bright and developed future". Furthermore, one of Thăng Long Four Defense Deity (Vietnamese: Thăng Long Tứ Trấn) is Long Đỗ Deity (literally: dragon's navel- where is the center, the place that Earth and Sky meet each other- according to orient's view, the belly has a role which is as important as the heart is in western view). Long Đỗ Deity helped Lý Thái Tổ to build Thăng Long citadel.
Many place-names in Vietnam incorporate the word Long, or Rồng (also meaning dragon): Hạ Long Bay (vịnh Hạ Long), the section of the Mekong river flowing through Vietnam contains 9 branches and is called Cửu Long (meaning nine dragons); Hàm Rồng Bridge, Long Biên Bridge. The city of Da Nang has a bridge shaped like a dragon, facing the sea. Other things named after dragons include: Thanh Long (dragonfruit), vòi rồng (waterspout), xương rồng (Cactaceae), long nhãn (dragon eyes: Vietnamese cognate word for longan fruit).
Media related to Vietnamese dragons at Wikimedia Commons