Lý Qua Đèo: Princess Huyền Trân


Once upon a time, there was a princess named Huyền Trân ̣(Black Pearl).  She was the daughter of a powerful and famous emperor, Trần Nhân Tông, who had been king for quite a long time and was getting on in years.  Wanting to retire, in the year 1293 AD, king Trần Nhân Tông transferred his royal duties to his son  Trần Anh Tông and went on an extended vacation to sample the delights of the southern kingdom of Champa.

The weather was good, the food was great, and the people were beautiful and inviting.  Trần Nhân Tông had a jolly good time, staying at the royal castle of the Champa king Jaya Sinhavarman III (we know him as Chế Mân) for nine months.  At the end of his 9 month stay, he promised the Champa king he would send his daughter Huyền Trân back to the kingdom of Champa to be the king’s wife.  King Jaya Sinhavarman III accepted with much joy, and soon after, escorted the old king back to his home in the north.

princess56Upon returning, the now retired emperor Trần Nhân Tông outlined his transaction with his son and daughter, and of course, met with much resistance.

For starters, the king of Champa was already in his late thirties and Huyền Trân was barely 17.  The age gap, even in those days, was quite large.

Also, the Champa king already had two other wives.  His first rank wife (first queen) was Princess Bhaskaradevi, and his second rank wife was a princess from Java named Queen Tapasi.

Although Huyền Trân would not be considered a concubine since she would have been legally married to Jaya Sinhavarman III, she would only be considered third rank, or third queen, and any children she bore would have very little chance to gain the throne.

In fact, Jaya Sinhavarman III’s eldest son, Jaya Sinhavarman IV, was 5 years older than Huyền Trân herself, and was already in the line of succession to be the future king of Champa.  With this less than desirable groom for such a beautiful princess, the bride’s side began to drag their feet.

To hasten the marriage, and as wedding presents, Jaya Sinhavarman III promised to cede two provinces that were part of his kingdom to the kingdom of Việt.   If marriage to the princess meant that the two kingdoms could remain on friendly terms, it would be a win-win situation.

The two provinces were the areas immediately to the south of a very dangerous and difficult mountain pass called Đèo Hải Vân (Ocean Cloud Pass).  As such, there is a song that talks about the ancient mountain pass called Lý Qua Đèo.  It is an ancient song, its origins long lost to the passages of time.

As a child, I grew up hearing this specific song played quite often in my home and I always wondered how my father could understand what the singer is saying because even though this is a Vietnamese song, it is almost as foreign-sounding to me as it does to you.

The reason is that although seventy-five percent of the words is basic Vietnamese, the remainder is composed of very regional and dialectic aboriginal vocabulary.  I had a tough time translating this song but I tried my best.

Here then, is Lý Qua Đèo, or Across the Mountain Pass.

Lý Qua Đèo

À ơi… à ơi…
Chiều chiều dắt mạ qua đèo
Chim kêu chừ bên nớ
À ơi, chim kêu bên nớ vượn trèo bên ni
Chiều chiều dắt mẹ, dắt mẹ tà là đèo qua đèo, tà là đèo qua đèoChim kêu, chim kêu tình như bên nớ
Úy, óa, chi rứa, chi rứa
Hỡi ơi vượn trèo, vượn trèo tà là ni bên ni, tà la ni bên ni
Ơi hỡi vượn trèo, tà là ni bên ni

Ngày ngày mỗi tủi, mỗi tủi tà là già thêm già, tà là già thêm già
Công danh, công danh tình như chưa có
Úy, óa, chi rứa, chi rứa
Hỡi ơi nghiệp nhà, nghiệp nhà tà là nên chưa nên, tà là nên chưa nên
Ơi hỡi nghiệp nhà tà là nên chưa nên

Từ Đoài, hướng vọng, hướng vọng tà là kiềng sang kiềng, tà là kiềng sang kiềng
Giang sơn, giang sơn tình như nơi đó
Úy, óa, chi rứa, chi rứa
Hỡi ơi mẹ hiền, mẹ hiền tà là đây nơi đây, tà là đây nơi đây
Ơi hỡi mẹ hiền tà là đây nơi đây

Ngậm ngùi, ngắm nhạn, ngắm nhạn tà là trời nương trời, tà là trời nương trời
Tai nghe, tai nghe tình như chim hót
Úy, óa, chi rứa, chi rứa
Hỡi ơi miệng cười, miệng cười tà là khan khô khan, tà là khan khô khan
Ơi hỡi miệng cười tà là khan khô khan, tà là khan khô khan…

Chiều chiều… qua đèo – chiều chiều… qua đèo
chiều chiều… qua đèo – chiều chiều… qua đèo


Evenfall, walking with Mother over the mountain pass
the mountain pass, over the mountain pass
Birds calling, birds calling over there
Oh no!  What’s that?  What’s that? 
Oh gosh, it’s Monkeys swinging on the other side, the other side 
Oh goodness, it’s Monkeys swing, other side of the mountain pass

Day by day, I grow older and older, and more and more despondent
Achievements, achievements and love, looks like I have none 
Oh no!  What’s that?  What’s that? 
Oh gosh, my family work calling 
Family work calling has not yet been built up
Oh goodness, family calling has not yet been built up

The Joyous Lake (I Ching divination result hexagram #58), advises an altar to the ancestral homeland, a three-leg iron incense altar, a three-leg iron incense altar
The country is calling, country calling and love is there 
Oh no!  What’s that?  What’s that? 
Oh Hey, gentle Mother
Gentle Mother is here, is here
Oh hey, gentle Mother is here

With longing, watching the geese against the sky, against the sky
Ears hear, ears hear, maybe birds sing
Oh no!  What’s that?  What’s that? 
Oh hey, smiling lips, smiling lips, such a dry, dry smile,
such a dry, dry smile. 


Within the body of the song, there are several points of high interest, at least to this Tao Babe.  The thing that sticks out the most for me is the I Ching divination for this journey across the treacherous mountain pass.  Từ Đoài is I Ching Hexagram 58, the lake, which is joy.

Since this post is getting rather long, I will include the divination explanation along with the deconstruction of the song’s multi-level meaning.  And then I will finish off the story line, about princess Huyền Trân and her groom, king Jaya Sinhavarman III.

(Continue to  Lý Qua Đèo 2: Princess Huyền Trân)


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