Stepping into Hanoi Old Quarter, we can’t miss the chance to see a preserved specimen of a giant turtle, the one in the mysterious legend of Hoan Kiem Lake. Where can you see that turtle? Only in Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain)!
Hoan Kiem lake and Ngoc Son temple are always in the heart of Hanoi, of Vietnamese people, in the most graceful and affectional way.
The temple is also a sacred place, where students can pray for the advantage in exams, studies.
Before, when King Ly Thai To moved the capital to Thang Long, he named the temple as Ngọc Tường. During the Tran Dynasty, it’s the place where worships fallen heroes in the struggle against Mongols. After a long time without renovation, the temple collapsed.
In the phase of 1735-1739, Trinh Giang commanded to build an imperial palace named Thụy Khánh on the ground of the old temple. But in the last years of Post-Le dynasty, King Le Chieu Thong demolished the palace.
On the cornerstone of the remnants, Tin Trai, a philanthropist, constructed Ngoc Son pagoda. A few years later, the pagoda was renamed as Ngoc Son Temple because the place was only used to worship the scholar Van Xuong, one of the brightest stars in Viet Nam's literary and intellectual circles.
In 1865, the Confucian Nguyen Van Sieu took charge in refurbishing the temple.
Ngoc Son Temple in the 19th century, After the temple was completed, there are altars dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a big hero of Vietnam in the 13th century, who led Vietnamese people to win over Mongol invaders. Also La To, patron saint of physicians… The temple worships the Buddha, Lã Động Tân (Lü Dongbin), Quan Vân Trường (Guan Yu).
To enter the temple, we will go over The Huc Bridge, a charming scarlet-painted wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design.
Across the bridge, we will see Moon Gazing Pavillion (Đắc Nguyệt Lâu). This construction has 2 floors; the second floor has 2 roofs and 2 circular windows
In the right side, there is a picture named Long Mã Hà Đồ, with the image of a dragon-headed horse. It’s related to the legend about Chinese King Phuc Hy created the overall labyrinthine battle array based on brushstrokes on the back of the horse.
In the left side, a picture named Thần Quy Lạc Thư is also related to the story Chinese King Đại Vũ patrolled on the Lạc river and saw a turtle.
The architecture of Ngoc Son temple shows us religion ensemble after many years existing. The main construction is 2 connecting temples, worshipping Tran Hung Dao and saint Van Xuong.
Tran Hung Dao statue is put onto a 1-meter pedestal; there are 2 stone stairs on 2 sides. Tourists can take a photo with this statue. Van Xuong statue has refined manners and attitude but still majesty and August. The square roof has 8 pillars holding up: 4 stone ones outside the temple and 4 wooden one inside. This unique combination increases solemn beauty but still attractive.
The turtle displaying inside Ngoc Son Temple is one of 4 giant softshell turtles having lived in Hoan Kiem lake. Locals affectionally used to call “Cu Rua”, which means “great-grandfather turtle”.The turtle is attached to the legend King Le Loi, who led Vietnamese people to fight back and expel Ming invaders from the national border. According to legend, Lê Lợi had the sword named Heaven's Will given to him by the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui. He used this sword in the battle against the aggressors. Le Loi gives back the sword
Not long after Vietnam got independence, Lê Lợi was out boating on the lake. Suddenly the Golden Turtle God surfaced, prompting Lê Lợi to return Heaven's Will. The Golden Turtle God got back the sword and disappeared into depths of the lake. Lê Lợi then renamed the lake Hoàn Kiếm Lake, meaning “The Lake of the Returned Sword”.
Along with Pen Tower (Thap But), Ink Slab (Dai Nghien), Ngoc Son temple in Hanoi is a cultural symbol for scholars, the pride of 1000-year-old Hanoi. Ngoc Son temple Hanoi and Hoan Kiem lake became splendid evidence evoking the magnanimous history of the nation, awaking the pride and patriotism of Vietnamese people.