Every nation has their own beliefs and cults that come from their ancient ancestors. In Vietnam, 4 animals that are seen as holy form together the quartet of the emblems and traditional motifs of the country.
Those holy animals are frightened supernatural beasts that can be observed in a lot of ancient art, paintings and in some fairytales. They were believed to be the embodiment of the nature or supernatural force with an unbelievable power, which is claimed to come out to deliver an important message. Although they are part of both cultural and religious beliefs, they have been invented by humans’ in order to give lessons and to give examples of their customs and religious practices for the next generation. Nowadays, these creatures are seen as a real national identity which tells a lot about the Vietnamese culture.
The Vietnamese Dragon = Long / Rong
“The Symbol of Yang, Lord of Scaly Animals, Source of Spring, King in the East, Father of Wood”
Despite its imposing and sometimes scary appearance, the Vietnamese dragon is seen as one of the most noble and powerful symbol rather than an evil. This mystic beast can be seen all around Vietnam in many sculptures, artworks and architectural pieces such as Da Nang’s Dragon Bridge. Also, this animal is believed to be the father of the Vietnamese folk following to the unmissable local legend of Au Co, a fairy, and Lac Long Quan, a dragon. According to this fairytale, both fell in love and had 100 children who are said to be the Vietnamese’ ancestors.
“The dragon image reflects the people’s desire to free themselves from restrictions and limitations. The dragon can fly in the sky, hide in the clouds, swim, walk and crawl. The dragon symbolizes human aspiration for strength and freedom to live a better life”. - Dang Van Ban, a cultural searcher
The Phoenix = Phuong
“The Emblem of Bliss, Lord of Birds, Source of Summer, Queen in the South, Mother of Fire”
This elegant divine carries the image of peace, grace and happiness. Symbols of this holy animal are used to be set in Vietnamese houses in order to represent the honesty and loyalty of the house’s inhabitants. Often represented opposite the Dagon as, both together, they represent the perfect marriage of strength and elegance, similar to the yin and the yang theory.
The Black Tortoise = Quy
“The Bringer of Long Life, Lord of Shelled Animals, Source of Winter, King of the North, Father of Water”
This divinity, which is believed to live for over 1000 years, is often represented with a crane on its back as a symbol for longevity. As well as for the Dragon, the Black Tortoise has its own famous legend. It relates to Hoan Kiem Lake which means the lake of the turtle located in the heart of Hanoi. The myth tells how King Le Loi received a sword from a turtle to fight enemies, after coming out victorious he returned the sword to the holy animal.
The Quilin = Ky Lan
“The Harbinger of Greatness, Lord of Furry Quadrupeds, Source of Autumn, King of the West, Father of Metal”
The Quilin is an imaginary beast that features many different animals’ characteristics even though it is most likely compared to as a unicorn. Seen as symbol of luck, prestige and intelligence by local people, it appears on extremely special occasions such as a child’s birth.