Article: Professor Trinh Sinh
Photo: Le Bich
Diem village, also known as Viem Xa, is located in Hoa Long ward, Bac Ninh city. It was a famous village in the ancient land of Kinh Bac. This is the home of Quan Họ folk songs, which were recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009.
From Diem village, these folk songs have spread across the land. Before 1945 there were 49 Quan Họ villages. Today, Quan Họ is performed in more than 300 new villages throughout Bac Ninh province. These inspiring songs have flown along the poetic Cau River to villages throughout the ancient land of Kinh Bac, around the entire Northern Delta, across the country, and even abroad, with Vietnamese people living overseas.
Quan Họ songs are inspirational, telling nostalgic stories of the village’s banyan tree, legendary well, and communal house. Quan Họ verses contain our cultural identity, similar to the Vietnamese language. They remind Vietnamese people of their homeland and their bonds with fellow countrymen.
Only by traveling to Diem village can one truly appreciate the beauty of Quan Họ folk songs. The male and female singers show off their silky voices and dimpled cheeks. Dressed in brown áo dài and yếm (a traditional Vietnamese halter top), they wear kerchiefs wound on their heads and offer paan (betel leaves and areca nuts) to visitors.
During a visit to Diem village, as well as enjoying Quan Họ melodies, tourists can admire a site that was recognized as a National Treasure by the State in 2020. This is “Cửa võng” – the hand-carved wooden door frame of Diem village’s communal house. This 300-year-old artifact is made from gilded wood and stands seven-meters high and 3.9-meters wide. It extends from the communal house’s ceiling to the floor. All five levels are decorated with magnificent carvings of the Four Spirits – dragons, kirins, turtles, and phoenixes. The carving techniques are sophisticated, including peel-style, embossing, and chisel-style. The long-ago artisans put their heart and soul into portraying themselves through images of an elderly man playing chess, a woman sitting on a dragon’s back, and a man in a loincloth and turban riding an elephant with his arms and legs spread wide and a joyful smile on his face. One notable carving, rarely seen in ancient sculpting art, depicts a beautiful and realistic horse next to a horseman in a turban, who holds the horse’s mane.
Diem village is bordered by Huu Chap village to the northeast and Xuan Dong village to the west. To the northwest and northeast lies the Ngu Huyen Khe River, which flows around before merging with the Cau River, reflecting Kim Son Mountain to create a charming sight. Diem village is also home to two national monuments. Built in the reign of King Le Hy Tong, Diem Communal House boasts beautiful architecture and a picturesque setting. It is located at the foot of Kim Son Mountain, beside the poetic Cau River. The second relic is the Temple of Lady King – the founder of Quan Họ. Other sites of interest include Cung Temple and Ngoc Well, which has an endless supply of clear water. This is the place to worship Mẫu Thượng Ngàn (Princesses of the Forest) and the two Ladies of the Well. Legend has it that Ngoc Well is home to three divine fish that are incarnations of the two princesses Ngoc Dung and Thuy Tien and their maid.
The best time to visit Diem village is on the 6th day of the 2nd lunar month, when the Lady King Temple Festival takes place. At this time, many Quan Họ singers from different villages gather here to compete.
It is rare to find a village that combines all the unique magnificence and elegance of the land of Kinh Bac. For this reason, Diem village attracts visitors from far and wide.