Chau van ritual singing: Sweeping away evil spirits

06:00 | 30/05/2021 Culture & Tourism

(VEN) - Chau van is a highly rhythmic form of ritual singing often performed at ceremonies honoring the Mother Goddess or other gods. It is usually performed in temples. 

The main musical instruments used in the genre are the Dan Nguyet or moon-shaped lute, and a set of phach, wooden sticks beaten together against a hollow bamboo pipe.

The genre is associated with Shamanism practiced in ancient times when worshipers believed in saints, genies, divinities and heroes of legend who possessed magic powers and saved people from natural disasters or diseases. According to Professor Thao Giang, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Musicians Association and a traditional music researcher, chau van began in the 16th century in the Le Dynasty in Vietnam’s Northern Delta.

Many features of the Northern Delta region of Vietnam, from oratorio rituals in temples to costumes and cuisine were incorporated into the genre.

In chau van, a singer is called cung van. Accompanying him is a ‘hau dong’ or medium, who calls himself a channel through which the gods may appear. The lyrics of a chau van song are usually taken from a legend which praises the merits of the gods. The characters worshiped can be a king, a hero, or just a farmer. Performers start the show by purifying the air, using a fire to sweep away evil spirits, and the show can last up to four hours and worship 8-12 different characters.

In 2013, chau van was recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Mother Goddesses worship is the 11th intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2016.

Pham Tiep