There is an ancient tale–more like a myth really–that has to do with two non-human entities called Sơn Tinh (the mountain god) and Thủy Tinh (the water god). My family told me of this tale (and other) myths and legends when I was a kid, so I knew the gist of this story which was quite interesting.
You have to admit. Gods fighting each other made for a fun tall tale. I had always dismissed it as just simply a fairy tale that was told for fun to entertain kids.
History? Or Mythology?
As a kid, I didn’t really read any history books because to me, they were boring. As I got older, in order to understand my world writ large, I had to understand the history behind my world. Recent accounts were believable because they were actual events I’d lived through.
As I dug farther and farther back, the accounts got more and more mystical, more and more magical. By the time I got into the era of all the Hung Kings, it was as if I was reading ancient fairy tales.
In fact, the mythology that encompasses the mountain god and water god is one such myth that occurred during the reign of one of Vietnam’s ancient Kings, Hùng Duệ Vương, also known as King Hùng XVIII (雄王).
What stopped it short from being considered a ‘fairy tale’ is the fact that it also shows up in history books as ACTUAL ACCOUNTS of REAL EVENTS that happened during King Hùng XVIII‘s reign.
There are three history books that mention the legend of the mountain god and the water god. I have mentioned these books in the past, and they are mentioned in my bibliography as well as being an integral part of my physical library.
The story’s basic premise lies in the struggle between two entities for the hand of one of his daughters, the beautiful Princess Mỵ Nương.
Having reached marriageable age, the Princess was sought after by many suitors far and wide, including the monarch of a neighboring kingdom, King Thục Phán, also known as An Dương Vương (安陽王).
As an aside, I wrote about King An Dương Vương in one of my previous posts, Huyền Vũ 2: The King, the Dark Warrior, and the Demon of Thất Diệu Mountain. This is another one of those strange and otherworldly mythological recounting that has been documented in both mythology as well as history books.
Anyhoo, back to the story.
King Hùng XVIII., not having any sons, and not wanting to cede his lands to the neighboring monarch (King An Dương Vương), decides to hold a contest whereby the best suitor would win the challenge, with the princess as the ultimate prize (as well as a chance to take on the throne once King Hùng XVIII got too old to do the job.
There was no mention of the reason for the absence of King An Dương Vương in this contest, especially since he had been the one to make overtures that indicated his desire to marry the Princess Mỵ Nương. However, I can guess the reason why.
Actually, I can offer TWO good reasons why.
Sơn Tinh, and Thủy Tinh
Let’s face it. There isn’t a mortal king on earth that could go toe-to-toe with the two top challengers, the mighty god of the mountains, Sơn Tinh, and the powerful god of the waters, Thủy Tinh.
As a potential mate to the Princess, either would have been good choices. The king however, for whatever reason, had his heart set on the mountain god Sơn Tinh, over the water god Thủy Tinh.
This caused him to demand one hundred bags of glutinous rice, one hundred bánh chưng cakes, a pair of elephants that had nine-tusks, a pair of chín cựa chickens (chickens with nine claws), and a pair of horses with nine-colored manes–all of which could only be found on dry land, and none of which could be obtained via waterways.
FYI: As far as I am aware, there are real chickens with nine claws that can be purchased, even today.
The horses can be had if you get some light-colored horses and apply chalk pastels or dyes to their manes.
The elephants…I don’t think there is such a thing, but I am more than willing to be pleasantly surprised if one ever shows up. In the meantime, we can sorta imagine that they would look something like the image I doctored up to show an elephantidae with a number of tusks.
To no ones’s surprise, the mountain god wins the contest, as well as the Princess’ hand in marriage, which caused the water god to become angry.
In a fit of rage, the water god Thủy Tinh chased after the newly weds and ordered his generals to fight the mountain god Sơn Tinh in an effort to reclaim Mỵ Nương.
The two gods began fighting in a landslide. Thủy Tinh created a tsunami to drown Sơn Tinh where he stood. In response, Sơn Tinh caused the mountain to rise so his wife’s people would not be drowned.
The waters kept rising as Thủy Tinh continued his rampage. Sơn Tinh continued to fight back by gathering all the people and moving them upward towards the mountain tops, which he continued to elevate above the water level.
After weeks of fighting, Thủy Tinh finally relented and gave up the fight. The water slowly receded, and the people were able to descend from their high perch, atop the mountain that Sơn Tinh had created for their retreat.
With that ends the epic battle between Sơn Tinh the mountain god and Thủy Tinh the water god, and as with all fairy tales, the Prince-consort Sơn Tinh and Princess Mỵ Nương lived happily ever after.
However, the story doesn’t quite end there because, according to a few sources, every year around the 7th lunar month (right around July/August), Thủy Tinh remembers his old grudge with Sơn Tinh and raises the waters to antagonize his old nemesis Sơn Tinh.
But wait! Hold on a minute. Didn’t we just read that history books show a real Princess being married off? Doesn’t the sources at least give the name of the Prince Consort? What kind of terrible Court scribes were they that they didn’t even scribble down the name of the guy who saved the kingdom from drowning AND married the princess?
Well, lucky for us, they did record this information. I’ll get into the ‘history’ part of this mythology in a bit because we need to clear up a few things that seem a little odd. The timing is a bit off because there is much more to this tale than what can be deduced from the various ancient books that annotate the history of King Hùng XVIII.
I will get into more of the nitty-gritty in a future posting. Until then, have an amazing day!