Meaning of “Four Immortals”
In the minds of Vietnamese people, the number four (4) is a number has estimation and great significance. The four (4) is a constant number which used to generalize a certain category. For example: Four towns, An Nam four great talents, Trang An four tigers, Son Tay four valuables, ... The choice of 4 is to choose what is most representative, most unique and modern. Besides, choosing 4 also implies choosing the most sustainable, most balanced, like the equilibrate of four directions. “The Four Immortals” is also a collection like that. Those are the four immortal gods which has been worshiped in Vietnamese temples.
And until now, Gods are often listed in The Four Immortals, including:
+ Tan Vien Mountain God
+ God Giong
+ Saint Chu Dong Tu
+ The Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh
1. Tan Vien Mountain God
Saint Tan Vien, also called Son Tinh, was the God of the Mountain who governed all the creatures on land. He often taught people to grow crops, hunt animals, catch fish, practice martial arts and hold festivals. Opposite to Son Tinh was Thuy Tinh, the God of the Sea, who governed all the living creatures in the sea. He was the God who was usually responsible for rising water levels that damaged crops, destroyed animals and drowned people.
According to popular belief, Tan Vien mountain god governs Ba Vi mountain range (Mount Tan Vien). Tan Vien is a saint representing for the great and permanent abilities in labor, which create endless wealth, and in the fight against natural disasters and floods to protect crops and life.
He is considered the head of The Four Immortals. And the story associated with this saint is known to everyone: Son Tinh - Thuy Tinh.
The Hung King, who was the head of all the Vietnamese tribes, had a beautiful daughter called Princess My Nuong. He organised a competition to choose a husband for his daughter, which Son Tinh won and he subsequently married My Nuong. The loser, Thuy Tinh, harboured a lot of resentment against Son Tinh so every year he summoned floods along the coast and sent sea monsters to harm the people. Son Tinh, along with all the other people and all the creatures on the land, resisted them with all their might. The higher the water level rose, the higher the mountain became and Thuy Tinh was defeated.
Son Tinh’s struggle against Thuy Tinh reflects the history of a country with its back against the mountain and its face looking out to the sea that fights natural disasters around the year. Worshipping Saint Tan Vien is to worship and believe in human beings’ sacred strength, benevolence and righteousness and the efforts they make to exist.
Tan Vien mountain god representing aspiration of conquering nature, defeating disasters of ancient Vietnamese people.
2. Phù Đổng Thiên Vương (Saint Giong)
Phu Dong Thien Vuong (Saint Giong), the second immortal, is the symbol for the great strength of the ancient nation in fighting against foreign invaders.
Once upon the time, during the 6th Hung King Dynasty, in Giong village (now Phu Dong Village, Gia Lam District, Hanoi) have a baby who was always silent and unmoving even though he was 3 years old.
When An foreign invaders attacked our country, Hung King sent messengers around the kingdom to find a heroes could against the enemy. Listen to the messengers, the strange baby told to messenger that he is a god who would repel the invasion and request the King provided him iron instruments to defeat invaders. Then he quickly grew up and turn into a valiant hero. He rode an iron horse, wore iron armour and used an iron rod to fight the enemy. When his rod was broken, Giong picked up bamboo bunches and used as a weapon. After he won, he took off iron armour and went to the top of Ve Linh Mountain, then flew into heaven on his iron horse.
He symbolized the tenacious courage in fighting foreign invaders, youth power, national solidarity and spiritual motherhood.
3. Chử Đồng Tử (Saint Chu Dao To)
Chu Dong Tu is the third immortals. He representing for love, marriage, and comforts, wealthy. Legend of Chu Dong Tu come from Taoism - a belief had been imported from China into Vietnam.
The core of legend as well as Chu Dao To's beliefs is combined of the Taoism religion with the color of pure Vietnamese folk beliefs. Chu Dong Tu is the pioneer of learning magic to save and then teach others. Common people honoring Chu Dong Tu as Chu Dao To cause his contribution.
The Chu Dong Tu Festival originates in the Northern Province of Hung Yen and is held in the springtime on the 10th day in the 2nd lunar month. They are bright costumes and parades with unattached people often attending in search of a partner; some think it is equivalent of Valentine’s Day in the West.
4. The Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh
The fourth immortal is a woman. In mind of Vietnamese people, The Mother Goddess Lieu Hanh is a god of freedom aspiration, liberty, thirst escaping the binding rules of society for women.
The legend of Saint Lieu Hanh reflects the characteristics of Vietnamese women, talented, virtuous, and devoted to their families, faithful and kind to the poor, who always defends the good and punishes the bad.
She was conferred by the feudal dynasties from the Hau Le dynasty to the Nguyen dynasty, dubbed the “the sacred Mother Saint - the Mother of the people” and finally leaved one’s home. She is also said to be the head of the Three Palace system, and the Four Palace system – which worshiping Motherhood.
No one created the legend of the four immortals. The stories about them were built upon by many people over the generations. The four immortals representing the four major aspects of Vietnamese people’s lives were, have been and will always be worshipped. This is the uniqueness of Vietnamese people’s beliefs