Van Village mud ball wrestling – sun worship and fun in the mud

The festival is based on ancient beliefs in worshiping the Sun God, imbued with characteristics of wet rice culture. The events and mud-based game express the desire for a successful harvest for the mainly agricultural residents.
Van Village mud ball wrestling – sun worship and fun in the mud ảnh 1Mud ball wrestling festival in Van village. (Source: Bac Giang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism)

Every 4 years, from the 12th to the 14th day of the fourth lunar month features mud ball wrestling, a unique rugby-style game for the people of Van Ha village (formerly known as Yen Vien, the traditional name is Van village), Viet Yen district, Bac Giang province. The game is a long-time tradition and a one-of-a-kind festival of the village.

Worshiping the Sun God is an important aspect to being elderly in the surrounding wet rice culture. Mud ball is an annual event to encourage success in an agrarian culture.

Residents hold the festival to pray for luck and fortune for their community. In doing so, locals hope for good weather and bountiful harvests within the rice culture and the fields that surround them. Water and mud are central to this celebration. The ball represents the Sun. Obtaining the ball also means winning the sun, getting the sunlight to help crops develop. This is the win, the top aspiration of farmers.

The festival is held at the Main Temple (where Tam Giang Saints Truong Hong and Truong Hat - two famous generals who helped Trieu Viet Vuong - Trieu Quang Phuc to defeat the enemy, are worshiped).

Van Village mud ball wrestling – sun worship and fun in the mud ảnh 2Mud ball wrestling festival in Van village. (Source: Bac Giang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism)

Some 16 local men, 8 on each side, play a special type of rugby, with a large wooden mud ball representing the sun. The game is played on a muddy field. The goal is to carry the ball back within their own zone, therefore winning the sun. 

The playing surface where the wrestling match takes place is cleaned out and filled with mud. It is about 200m2 wide. The mud is carefully hydrated, too much means the field will get wet, or too little would be too dry. The hydration process for the field follows specific guidelines. Water must be taken from Cau River by two or four unmarried girls, wearing traditional costumes of Kinh Bac women.

The selection of people in charge of sacrificing before the altar is also done very carefully and follows the strict standards set by the village.

The two ends of the field have two holes that are 1-meter deep and half a meter wide. There are two teams named Armor and Upper Armor. Each team has 8 players, called a "quan bridge". If any armor gets the ball into the other side's hole, that armor wins. The ball is not an ordinary ball. It is made of wood and weighs 20kg. Keeping and carrying that ball, moving it, and putting it in the hole facing the opponent's "fierce" interception techniques is not an easy task. This is especially so while playing hard on the slippery mud field.

The court consists of two goals: One hole on the east side (where the sun rises) and one hole on the west side (where the sun sets). According to folklore, if the east side wins, that year will be a bumper crop with good weather.

The pounding drums that accompany the game thrills the local audience. The national spirit drums up the team spirit and the winner shall prevail. At the end of the game, all participants rush to Cau River to bathe and celebrate the joy of the game and the worship of the Sun God.

The festival usually attracts thousands of tourists from across the region, contributing to preserving and promoting the traditional cultural values of the community. With that historical, cultural meaning, the mud ball wrestling festival in Van village is included in the list of national intangible cultural heritages according to Decision No. 63/QD-BVHTTDL dated 12/01/ 2022 of the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism./.


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