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Discovery Con Son Kiep Bac: Museum of Vietnamese belief and culture

July 21, 2016

 Located 80 km from Hanoi, the complex is a destination to explore Vietnam’s history, culture, and religion.

Con Son- Kiep Bac is one of Vietnam’s Buddhist Truc Lam Zen centers founded by King Monk Tran Nhan Tong in the 13th century. The other two are Yen Tu and Quynh Lam in Quang Ninh province.

Con Son pagoda was built in the 10th century and was expanded in the 13th century during the Tran dynasty. In 1329, Venerable Monk Phap Loan, second founder of Lam Zen Sect upgraded the pagoda. His successor, Huyen Quang expanded the pagoda, taught Buddhism, printed Buddhist sutras, cast Buddha statues and developed Con Son into one of the three principal centers of Buddhist Truc Lam Zen.

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“Con Son, Yen Tu and Quynh Lam are the three centers of the Truc Lam Zen sect. Con Son pagoda was chaired by the three founders of the sect. Venerable Monk Huyen Quang stayed in Con Son pagoda all his life. He died on the 23rd day of the first lunar month in 1334. His death anniversary is commemorated by the Con Son Spring Festival”,  said Deputy Head of the Con Son – Kiep Bac Relic Management Committee Le Duy Manh.

Con Pagoda embodies the royal architectural style distinguished by a half-moon lake and a three-door temple gate in the front. A path leads to the bell tower before reaching the main sanctuary, behind which is a lotus-shaped tower and the memorial house dedicated to the founders of the Truc Lam Zen Sect. 

In 1962, the pagoda was recognized as a national heritage site. Near Con Son pagoda is Kiep Bac temple and a temple dedicated to the Confucian teacher Chu Van An.

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Con Son-Kiep Bac relic site still preserves documents, worshipping rituals, and traditional festivals. There are also four stone steles dating back to the 13th century. One of them is the famous stele called “Thanh Hu Cave” which is recognized as a “national treasure”. It was a gift King Tran Due Tong presented to mandarin Tran Nguyen Dan in 1369. 

“The Con Son Pagoda features a traditional sculptural style that honors four sacred animals: dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix and four sacred plants: apricot, pine, chrysanthemum, and bamboo. There are also sculptures of other animal species like crab, fish, and deer. All animals bow before the Buddha showing that all species and people are equal and are educated by Buddha to become good”, Manh added.

5 km from Con Son pagoda is Kiep Bac temple, which worships military leader Tran Hung Dao. It was there in the 13th century that Tran Hung Dao stocked food and trained soldiers for a fight against Mongol invaders. Tran Hung Dao died on August 20, 1300 and Van Kiep temple was built to worship him.

Van Kiep relic site covers more than 4 square km. Its architecture embraces a royal style dating from the 19th century. The temple has undergone several restorations under the Le and Nguyen Le dynasties”, said Nguyen Thi Thuy Lien, deputy director of the Con Son – Kiep Bac Relic Management Committee.

Con Son-Kiep Bac relic site is now a popular tourist destination. Juan,  a Spanish tourist stressed that Vietnam has managed to preserve its tradition and culture. “This pagoda is well harmonized with the surrounding landscape”.

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