18. Dinh Co Scenic Relic

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Hai Ba Trung Street, Long Hai Town, Long Dien District, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, Vietnam ( Chỉ đường )
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Dinh Co Long Hai is the shrine of Young Lady. This is a complex of relics including the shrine of Young Lady located under the snout of Thuy Van mountain. Dinh Co is located next to Long Hai beach and considered the most beautiful charming place of Long Hai town. Therefore, when it comes to Dinh Co, it is not only talking about “Long Hai Godless”, a folk belief of Long Hai fishermen, but also a beautiful scenic spots on the romantic Long Hai coast. Dinh Co scenic relic was recognized as a Scenic Site according to Decision No. 65QD/BT dated January 16th, 1995 of the Ministry of Culture and Information

Dinh Co Long Hai is Co Shrine, formerly known as Ba Co Shrine by fishermen. This is a relic complex including Co temple located under Thuy Van mountain, in Hai Son neighborhood, Long Hai town and Mo Co area located on Co Son hill, facing the sea on three sides, about 1km to the East of the temple. Dinh Co is located right next to Long Hai beach, and is considered the most poetically beautiful location of Long Hai town. Therefore, when it comes to Dinh Co, it is not only about the “Long Hai goddess” folk belief of Long Hai fishermen, but also a beautiful scenic spot on the coast of Long Hai.

Legend has it that Dinh Co was originally a small shrine made of trees and leaves and built close to the coast. Later, due to tidal erosion, the villagers moved the shrine to the foot of Thuy Van mountain. In 1930, village officials and local people contributed to rebuilding the shrine on a larger scale and moving it to the slopes of Thuy Van mountain (ie the current location). This time, Co Hall was built relatively spaciously using brick, stone, and reinforced cement materials. In 1987, on the evening of the 8th day of the Lunar New Year, a fierce fire completely burned the inside of the main hall. The villagers donated money to rebuild Dinh Co. In 1989, a two-storey house was built in front of the main hall based on the cliff in front of the main hall, the lower floor serves as a place to receive guests, and the upper floor serves as Vo Ca house. In the following years, in 1992 and 1993, Dinh Co was always built with additional Bodhisattva Bodhisattva statue, guest house… Through many renovations and embellishments, Dinh Co is now a superficial architectural work based on the back of the mountain, facing the majestic sea, with a total construction area of nearly 1,000 m2.

Regarding the history of the shrine and Co worship, there are many legends to explain. According to the book Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi of the Nguyen dynasty (compiled during 1885 – 1892), when writing about Thuy Van mountain, it was recorded: Thuy Van mountain is 12 miles to the Southeast of Phuoc An District Capital, on the mountain there is Hai Nhat pagoda (a place overlooking the sea to welcome the sun), under the mountain there is Son Tru pool (Bai Heo). Outside the mountain peak there is Than Nu mountain, commonly called Dinh Co peak. In the past, there was a girl about 17 or 18 years old who was swept here by a storm, was buried by local people; later, people dreamed that the girl came here to help, and  thought that she was a god, so they built a shrine for her. According to local folktale, the girl’s name is Le Thi Hong (also known as Cach), her hometown is Phan Rang (some say her hometown is Binh Thuan). She is the only daughter of Mr. Le Van Khuong and Mrs. Thach Thi Ha, often follows her father to Ba Ria and Go Cong (Tien Giang) for trade activities. One time when she went to the South to do business, she did not want to leave this land when the boat was still anchored in Mu U bay (Long Hai), so she asked her father to stay here and live permanently. She was only 16 years old. However, the father was resolutely dissatisfied, and forced her to return to her homeland with him. When the boat left the dock quite far away, the father looked back in the boat and did not see her. He went back and searched for her for three days in a row but could not find her. He sadly returned to his hometown. A few days later, her body washed up on Hon Hang. An old man in the village found out. The fishermen in the village buried her on the sand dune near where her body was found (that is Mo Co on Co Son hill now). Her grave was always covered with sand, so no grass could grow, but right next to it a lush banyan tree grew quickly to shade the grave. After a while, there was an epidemic in this area, a lot of people got sick and died. While the epidemic was raging, someone dreamed that Co would help the villagers overcome the epidemic. The villagers burned incense to pray, and indeed the epidemic passed. After that incident, someone asked the local people to build a shrine to worship, hoping that Co would help the villagers prosper and live a peaceful life… And an anecdote says that she is the daughter of a Tay Son soldier who followed her father to transfer rice to the guerrilla army that was shipwrecked and died here. Later, in memory of an epiphany daughter who died for the cause of moral principles, the local people built a shrine…

According to the legends recounted, the first legend is said by Long Hai fishermen to be closer to the truth and more known to many people. Although there are many different explanations, there is one thing in common: She was a virgin, died unjustly, epiphanized, had her grave and the location was clearly defined.

Her epiphany is increased when fishermen come here to worship, pray and tell each other about the things she helped, blessed, and protected during their trips to the sea or in life. And after being helped by her, they came to worship and give thanks. Rumors about the sacredness of Co spread from generation to generation.

On the day of her death anniversary, visitors from all over the world gathered at Dinh Co to attend the festival, including fishermen from Phan Rang, Phan Thiet to Ben Tre, Go Cong, Tra Vinh, Ca Mau, Rach Gia… and many tourists from Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai to attend the festival, combining pilgrimage with rest and swimming, making Nghinh Co the most crowded festival among the festivals in Ba Ria – Vung Tau in particular and the Southeast in general.

Every year, on the 10th day of the 2nd lunar month, tens of thousands of people from all over Ba Ria – Vung Tau, the South Central and Southern regions gather to visit Dinh Co, Long Hai town to attend the festival. Nghinh Co Long Hai Festival is one of the largest water festivals of Southern coastal fishermen. Nghinh Co Festival belongs to the type of worshiping Mother – Goddess, but it is not only worshiping Mother – Goddess but also a combination of the Fisherman’s Festival with the worshiping of the Sea God (Ms. Thuy Long, whale) and the worshiping belief of Mother – Goddess of the local residents (the crystallized and integrated god of other “Mothers”). Nghinh Co ritual is actually the Nghinh Ong ritual (from the sea) during the whale worship ceremony. Its uniqueness is to show the convergence and condensation of the cultural beauty and taste of many regions.

The main hall of Dinh Co has 7 altars (all made of cement base). Right in the center of the main hall is the altar of Ba Co. It stands out with a statue of Ba Co which is more than 0.5 meters high, weares a red robe with sparkling tinsel border and a pearl-attached hat. Behind Ba Co altar is the altar of Dieu Tri Phat Mau, Chua Cau (Second Prince, i.e. Cau Tai, Cau Quy), Ngu Hanh Nuong Nuong, Tu Phap Nuong Nuong Nuong (Phap Van, Phap Vu, Phap Loi, Phap Dien), Ong Dia, and Than Tai.

Related to Dinh Co  and an important part of the relic is Mo Co, located on “Co Son” hill, which is about 1 km from Dinh Co. In 1999, Dinh Co was restored and embellished according to the motto of socializing the preservation of historical and cultural relics. Currently, Mo Co is a beautiful spacious place that attracts many people to visit and worship, especially on the occasion of the Nghinh Co festival. The way to Mo Co consists of 60 cement steps.

Management and administration of all operational organizations of Dinh Co are carried out by the Management Board of Dinh Co. The Management Board has a Head, Deputy Heads and members. When Dinh Co starts in the festival season, the Management Board assigns specific and detailed tasks, establishes a Worship Committee, appoints a Head, 4 – 5 deputy heads and 17 sub-committees to take care of specific tasks during the three days of Nghinh Co. Every year, Dinh Co has many worship days: Lunar New Year, Tam Nguyen, Doan Ngo (trung ngu), but the biggest, with the deepest and most widespread influence is Nghinh Co festival or Via Co day, Co’s death anniversary.

Nghinh Co festival takes place in three days, the 10th, 11th and 12th of the 2nd lunar month. Local fishermen call it “Le” (or “Le Co”) day. Regarding worshiping rituals include: the 10th: chanting for the peace of the country and the people, the 11th: worshiping Tien hien, the 12th: the death anniversary; with offerings including vegetarian rice, fruits, and incense. Many days before, people calculates so that their trip will have to return on time for the festival. All work is put aside to prepare for the day of Co worship. The annual schedule is carefully arranged, with very few changes:

From 6 a.m. on February 10, the Worship Committee and fishermen gather at Dinh Co to prepare for the Nghinh Co ceremony. At 7:00 a.m., the Worship Committee invited Long vi Ba Lon (Ms. Thuy) and Mr. Nam Hai to return to Dinh Co. The procession was elaborately prepared with the participation of the Worship Committee. The procession had ceremony students, bands, rowing partners (12 peoples), red shirts, yellow splints, yellow conical hats, oars, long communal houses (two houses, one of Nghinh Ba Lon, one of Ca Ong), five-element flags… At 9:00 a.m, the worship of Tien hien Hau hien takes place. At 10:00 a.m. The pray for peace and safety for the nation and people takes place.

Entering the second day (February 11): 8 a.m, a rowing and swimming competition is held. At 21.00, the worship of Tien thuong is held. The special thing is that monks and nuns organize chanting ceremonies to pray for peace. Before that, from 4 p.m., hundreds of boats from the fishing villages of Long Hai, Phuoc Hai, Phuoc Tinh, and a number of boats from the Central region, decorated with gorgeous floral flags, anchored and headed in front of Dinh Co to perform the “Co worship” ritual. At night, the lights on the boats illuminated a corner of the sky. Fishermen believe that when their boat comes to worship Co, if it is beautifully decorated, it means expressing the most sincere respect to her, receiving her blessings, and helping the boat have more fish and shrimp. From that concept, all boats compete to decorate their boats in the most beautiful way, creating a sea with hundreds of colorfully decorated boats.

February 12: Death anniversary. From 7:00 a.m, fishermen hold the Nghinh Co ceremony (at sea) and return to the shrine. Nghinh Co ritual is performed in a manner similar to Nghinh Ong Nam Hai General Ceremony. Nghinh Co boats arecarefully prepared and brightly decorated. Nghinh Co boat convoy consists of hundreds of boats, including 2 main boats, 6 escort boats. The two main boats have tablets, incense burners, and offerings. The celebrant, music band, 12 altar boys and 12 rowers are all on this boat. At 7 o’clock, the Nghinh Co boat convoy starts to depart, and heads out to sea. When the boat convoy is more than 1 km from the shore, the celebrant orders the boat convoy to stop and start the ceremony. The celebrant will chant and light incense, and the band performs ceremonial music. After the incense ceremony, the boat convoy continues to march around the sea, passes Ba Thuy Long temple and returns to the Western beach, about hundred meters from Dinh Co. On the shore, 10 young people holding five-element flags stood in two symmetrical rows to process Nghinh Co’s tablets to settle at Dinh Co. In particular, after the tablets have been seated, there is a ritual of singing, which is considered an important ritual in Dinh Co festival that is not present anywhere else in the South (in the South Central region, it is indispensable in fishermen’s festivals).

At about 9 o’clock, a grand ceremony to worship Ba Co is held. The main offerings include roasted pig to worship Ba Thuy Long, whole pig (alive pork) to worship Mr. Nam Hai and vegetarian food to worship Ba Co. From 3 p.m. to midnight, there will be Bong roi singing, flower dancing (five-colored trays, gold trays, silver trays), adoration, and folk performances of Chap Dia Nang singing.

The offerings to Co and the gods during Nghinh Co festival are no different from Nghinh Ong festival, but more in number and are regularly replaced. This is probably due to the greater number of people coming to worship Co. Offerings to Co and the gods include whole alive pig, roasted pig, sticky rice, tea, stir-fried foods, fruits…

In terms of rituals, the rituals of praying for peace, sacrifices, Nghinh Co, welcome Ong, procession of palanquins… are all conducted in a similar manner to Nghinh Ong ritual. A ritual that we rarely see in other festivals in Ba Ria – Vung Tau is the animal release ceremony in Nghinh Co festival. People buy birds to put in cages and then release, similar to the release on the full moon or first day (lunar calendar) that people in some places still do…

In the days of the Nghinh Co festival, the Worship Committee invites singing troupes to perform tuong and boi singings. In addition, people also organize lion dance and other folk games such as fishing competition, eel fishing and boat racing, basket boat racing… Folk games, especially boat racing and basket boat racing, often attract a large number of young fishermen in the village to participate. This is a game that is cheered by many people, so it often takes place very excitedly and enthusiastically, making the festival more bustling and attractive. It can be said that the unique feature of Dinh Co Long Hai festival is the convergence of many unique cultural features, making an important contribution to preserving traditional cultural values, demonstrating the beauty and humane behavior of fishermen in front of the sea.

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