The mythical dragon is closely associated with Asia. In Vietnam,it represents four deities, thunder and lightning, rain and cloud. Dragons have been depicted on artefacts dating back to the Dong Son-Au Lac culture in the North of Vietnam in over 2,000 years ago. Its representation is the ‘’S’’ shape. Tu Phap followed, otherwise known as the Four Miracles though stargazers saw the constellation of the Dragon as seven stars that are arranged in such a way that they form that ‘’S’’. The brightest of the seven stars is Tam (the Mind) which is also called the Divine Star (Than). Than, or sometimes Thin, means dragon and it gives its name to the third month of the lunar calendar.
Dragons are associated with royalty, or more precisely kings. One of the country’s legends involves Lac Long Quan, the King Dragon of the Lac Bird people and the forefather of the Vietnamese and Au Co, his wife. Their son, Hung, taught everyone to tattoo their chests, stomachs and thighs with images of dragons as protection against water monsters. By the Middle Ages in the Ly Dynasty, the dragon was the primary motif in art.
One legend talks of the royal barge tying up at Dai La when the king saw a golden dragon rise up into the sky. That was seen as a good omen so he called his new capital Thang Long, the City of the Soaring Dragon. It was on the site of today’s Hanoi that every tourist travelling in Vietnam on Vietnam travel packages is certain to visit.
Another story of the Ly times talks of the dragon deity coming in the form of a very strong north wind that blew down houses close to the temple dedicated to it, but leaving the temple fully intact. The origins of the dragon were in fact in India, the Naga that South East Asian people made a sea god. In Vietnam, it was visually stunning; raised head, fire crest with a jewel in its jaws, the body flying above the waves. The image regularly appears on wood, stone, even leaves and flowers and travellers touring in Vietnam can see a number of depictions which they can buy as souvenirs of their Vietnam holiday.
The Tran Dynasty in the 13th and 14th Centuries saw the dragon retain its style but become arguably more powerful. Additional detail was added to the typical image; claws, scales and a forked horn. Further change came under the Le Dynasty that followed and survived for four centuries. Dragons were carved in stone in Co Loa and Dinh Temples, on wooden doors in the Keo Pagoda and the central staircase of Kinh Thien Hall.
The Nguyen Dynasty from that point until the end of ‘’French occupation’’ continued to use dragons widely, including on roof tiles. The ordinary people believed it was dragons that provided the rain and the dragon dance was performed in the hope of the rains coming.
Ha Long Bay, the famous UNESCO World Heritage site in the North and which appears in almost all Vietnam tour packages literally means ‘’where the dragon descended.’’