Symbolism of Dragon in Vietnamese Culture

10:34:03 AM | 1/31/2024

In Eastern culture, the Dragon is a symbol of beauty, perfect happiness and absolute power. For Vietnamese people, the Dragon has always been a sacred symbol related to the legend “The Children of the Dragon and the Fairy”.

Of the twelve zodiac animals, only the Dragon is a legendary animal. According to researchers, the Dragon is an imaginary creature that doesn’t exist in the actual world. The image of Dragon appears quite often in Vietnamese idioms.

The Dragon is among the four sacred animals of Vietnamese cults, including the Dragon, the Unicorn, the Tortoise and the Phoenix. These four sacred animals create perfect beauty and symbolize the world of complete virtue. They represent the perfect balance of sky and ground, as well as water and air. The dragon is considered the head and the most powerful animal of the four sacred animals because it can fly in the sky, swim underwater and even walk on land. According to Feng Shui, the Dragon is believed to bring good fortune and prosperity.

In the minds of Vietnamese people, the Dragon is seen as a deity and a symbol of cosmic monism because it embodies both yin and yang energies and both sky and ground. Therefore, this creature is known to have a strong influence on wet rice cultivation, a historical and traditional profession in Vietnam that has much connection with the two original natural elements: land and water.

The Dragon is closely associated with the legend of the Hong Bang Dynasty (Hong Bang Thi, 2879-258 BC) that tells about the origin of Vietnamese people, “the children of the Dragon and the Fairy”, and the spirit of national solidarity. According to the legend, the earliest ancestors of Vietnam were born of the union between the sea-dragon king Lac Long Quan and the beautiful mountain fairy Au Co. Au Co bore a golden sac with 100 eggs, from which hatched one hundred male babies who grew to become fine young men. But Lac Long Quan wanted to live by the sea and Au Co missed her native mountains. So the two decided to part amicably, each taking 50 of their sons: Au Co to the mountains and Lac Long Quan to the sea. Thus were the coast and mountains of Lac Viet populated and the children of the sea-dragon king and the mountain fairy became the Hung Kings, commemorated as Vietnam’s founders to this day.

From a cultural perspective, the Dragon is a source of inspiration for artistic creativity, especially in the visual arts. Since the Ly and Tran dynasties, dragons have been placed in the most solemn positions in works of art, such as on the pedestal of the Amitabha Buddha statue at Phat Tich Pagoda and at Chuong Son Tower, Pho Minh Pagoda. During the Early Le Dynasty, dragon images were popular on stone steles. Nowadays, most of the stone dragons are still relatively intact, such as the pair of stone dragons at Kinh Thien Palace, Thang Long Imperial Citadel, stone dragons on the doctoral stele at Van Mieu, Quoc Tu Giam, on the mausoleum stele, tombs of Le Dynasty kings, and in Lam Kinh, Thanh Hoa province.

The Dragon is a symbolic mascot representing the emperor’s power. Historically, the king’s objects all carried the image of the Dragon such as the king’s royal robe, the king’s bed, the king’s chair and the king’s seal.

Today, the Dragon image is still used in architectural works, paintings, carvings and engravings. The Dragon image also appears in architectural decorations in temples and pagodas as well as worship objects, because it is considered a representation of deities with supreme power and a symbol of heaven and earth.

In Vietnamese cultural tradition, at the engagement ceremony, the groom and his family often carry gifts placed in a number of trays, including two trays decorated with the image of a dragon and phoenix, to the bride’s family. The groom and the bride then bring these trays to their ancestral altar to express their respect and filial piety.

In traditional rituals and local folk festivals, people will often carry dragon torches and perform spirited dragon dances. This is an extremely beautiful cultural and spiritual practice for Vietnamese people to remember their roots.

The Dragon image has become familiar to every Vietnamese person and is a noble symbol loved, respected and worshiped by many people. The appearance of the Dragon brings people peace and prosperity. Since ancient times, our ancestors often believed that the year of the Dragon was the year that brought “great auspiciousness and great benefits”.

Quynh Chi (Vietnam Business Forum)