Village well tells local spiritual life

(VOVworld) – The village banyan tree, water well, and communal house yard have long been icons of the Vietnamese village. A banyan tree gives shade and a village well provides water for the villagers’ daily use. A communal house yard offers a place to conduct cultural activities and religious rituals. According to Vietnamese elders, water represents the source of vitality, and the village well links the heaven and the earth with humans.

Village well tells local spiritual life - ảnh 1
A square, ancient well in Diem village in Hoa Long commune, Bac Ninh province. (Photo: VOV)

In Vietnamese rural areas, the pagoda represents Buddha, the banyan tree represents the Protective Genie of the village, and the water well represents the source of the village’s prosperity and vitality.

Tran Minh Nhuong, a folklore researcher, said: “In the Red River Delta, there are ancient wells that are still being used in daily life. They were usually built of earth, stone, or laterite brick of various sizes and shapes. The ancient wells are even more sacred when they are situated in front of pagodas, temples, and royal tombs.”

Wells have often figured in legends, folklore, and mystery stories. On top of Tran Son mountain in Bac Ninh province sits a stone well called “Viet well” which is believed to be built thousands of years ago. This well has been considered a symbol of “yin” and its water represents eternal life.

Legend has it that the Gieng (Well) Temple in the Hung Kings Temple complex, Phu Tho province, worshipped Princess Ngoc Hoa and Princess Tien Dung, the 18th Hung King’s daughters. It is said that the two princesses used to comb their hair and look at their reflection in the water of this well.

The Pearl Well in Co Loa Temple, in Hanoi’s outlying Dong Anh district is closely linked with the legendary love story of Princess My Chau. It’s said that if a pearl is washed in the well’s water, it will be brighter.

At Linh Tien Pagoda, 20 kilometers west of Hanoi, there is a special water well whose water is pure and fresh all year round. It is never dry. The locals still take the water there to offer to the gods. Anyone who is wounded, or gets sick, or feels tired will soon recover if they drink water from this well.

Village wells are characteristic of Vietnam’s wet rice civilization. Depending on its period, a village well’s shape has a special meaning. A square well represents Mother Earth and its water is considered the Mother’s breast milk that helps her children grow. A round well represents the sun, while an oval well resembles a mirror, reflecting the peaceful daily life of the village.

A village well is a place where people can meet, chat, or even flirt. Mông Phụ village in Duong Lam commune, on the outskirts of Hanoi, is famous for wells made of laterite brick.

Mong Phu elder Phung Van Truyen said his village’s well water is always pure and fresh. “There are 6 wells in Mong Phu village, 5 of them provide water for our daily use. We take the water there for cooking. Some villagers even have become husband and wife when drawing water from the wells,” Truyen explained.

Mong Phu village is famous for a holy well called the “milking-well”, which stores clear water all year round. It is believed that mothers will have enough breast milk for to feed their babies after they perform a ritual and drink this water.

Mai Dong and Hoang Mai village south of Hanoi are famous for Mo tofu. Nguyen Van Loi, a Hoang Mai villager, told us: “Our Mo tofu would be less delicious if it weren’t made using the village well water. The water and the local soil have produced Hoang Mai village’s famous eggplants and mustard greens. Our village used to be well known for a kind of wine favored by the King, which was distilled using the village well water. There were once 8 wells in Hoang Mai village but now only 4 are left and only 20 local households still make Mo tofu.” 

Rural water wells have been a part of rural people’s lives for thousands of years and have become an eternal symbol of rural Vietnam.


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