Directed by Việt Tú, a famous director of Contemporary Theatrics in Vietnam, “Tứ Phủ|Four Palaces” is a uniquely creative and artistically inspired work of art. The show is based on folklore materials on the Viet beliefs of the worship of Mother Goddesses.
“Four Palaces” simply means the belief in the worship of Four Mother Goddesses, including Mother Goddess of Heaven, Mother Goddess of Forest, Mother Goddess of Water and Mother Goddess of Earth.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries were the most flourishing periods of Mother Goddess religion in Viet folklore. There are times when Mother Goddess religion is considered as a manifestation of superstition and thus prohibited. However, the rituals of “Tứ Phủ” (Four Palaces), known by several other names, for instance, Tứ Phủ Công Đồng or Four Palaces Council, hát văn, chầu thánh, etc., still have a remarkable presence and strong reflection in Viet folk arts for several reasons:
1. Four Palaces is considered as a medium of lively communication of humans with Gods or Saints, divine beings who are familiar to Vietnamese both spiritually and in real life. The communications are organized as rituals by psychics or mediums who play roles of middlemen connecting people to divines. As such, it connected with Vietnamese in general.
2. Four Palaces is a lively form of art which collected many materials of folk arts, for example, hát chầu văn or chầu thánh (a traditional folk art which combines trance singing and dancing) and rites (ceremonies) as well as music with drum, flute and folk instruments; ritual dancing, rites of hầu đồng (hiển thánh) or ritual dress of sorceresses, etc.
Tứ Phủ| Four Palaces is highly attractive, not only because it is very colorful and lively, but also because it is unfeigned and completely reflects the Viet spiritual life as well as folk art and culture in Vietnam.
Based on the unique attraction of Tứ Phủ or Four Palaces Religion, Director Việt Tú has nurtured an idea of reconstituting the rituals of Four Palaces Religion into a unique show of contemporary art since 2013. He hopes that the show will become one of the cultural products of tourism, that will expose tourists all over the world to Vietnam.
Four Palaces is reconstituted creatively with all the sounds of modern art including: video art, performance art and many other stage effects, which are applied cleverly to achieve a seamless effect and unified creativity.
The combined factors of high interactivity and hyperspace of art in Tứ Phủ, together with the lighting, music, vocals, clothing and time or performance space with wonderful locations, make it a very high ranking and one of the most favored cultural shows for tourism to Hanoi.
On 1st of December, 2016 the beliefs of Mother Goddesses Worship were inscribed on the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Unlike others that are in need of urgent conservation, the beliefs of Mother Goddesses Worship (with representative of Three or Four Realms) have experienced long and strong growth in The Viet spiritual culture and have also become more and more popular, displaying itself more than ever despite its checkered history.
The practices relating to the Viet beliefs in the Mother Goddesses Three or Four Realms, known as Chầu văn, hầu đồng, lễ thánh appear boisterous and lively in temples, pagodas as well as other areas all over the country more than ever. It is not only a form of folk art with a long and tenacious history of growth, but also a belief of people in Mother Goddesses who are believed to have power of birth and life in the appearance of MOTHER. On the other hand, it is said that Mother Goddess Worship Religion shows hope of controlling the lives of Asian women because they create, give birth, protect and develop the world both in the past and today.
Four Palaces Show collected a lot of the best talents, artisans and artists in folk arts, especially in Mother Goddesses Worship religious art form. Their appearance is attractive and they are excellent at chầu văn singing, playing rite instruments and dancing in trance or hầu đồng. Việt Tú doesn’t simply simulate the beliefs of Mother Goddesses Worship in the show but animates and makes it typical with the interesting effects of music, lighting and special shaping. He overcomes the limits of basic estimation in traditional folk art and presents a vivid, interesting and attractive world of spiritual art for the audience and for tourists. Moreover, the interaction between song and dance or actors and audience impressed them a lot. Some people enjoy the show more than once because they are surprised at the contemporary element in a show of folk art like Tứ Phủ.
Scholars, intelligentsia and cultural experts also consider Tứ Phủ or Four Palaces show to be a unique, creative, excellent and typical theatrical work that is deserving of representing the Viet folk arts to the world.
In fact, Việt Tú has taken Tứ Phủ – Four Palaces show around the world with dozens of successful performances. His fame now has gone around with the hope and passion of reviving the Viet folk arts and culture in a new, more interesting, and artistic form. As Viet Tu said, he was born in a family with 3 generations working in the field of art. Besides, he has extensive experience and strong capabilities of international integration. He has become a famous art director of national stature in Vietnam. He also intends to create magic for others that are in his series of contemporary folk art theaters and introduce them to international tourists to Vietnam in the future.
Chầu văn, known as hầu đồng singing in folklore, plays a special role and grows strongly in the Viet spiritual life. It’s a kind of music, used in rites of hầu đồng – the practices relating to the Viet beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Four Realms (Mother Goddesses Worship Religion) and the beliefs of Worshipping Trần Saint (Đức thánh Trần). Hầu đồng singing or hát văn, chầu văn, hát bóng… is full of significance about the spirit of traditional Vietnamese and originated in the Northern Delta of Vietnam.
The ancient Vietnamese worshipped Heaven, Earth and Water or Thiên Phủ (Heaven Realm), Địa ph ủ (Earth realm) and Thoải phủ (Water Realm). After that, in the Le dynasty, because of the appearance of Liễu Hạnh or Mother Liễu, who was in The Four Immortals and ancestral tablet in Mother Goddesses Religion, there was one more realm, Nhạc Phủ (Forest Realm) with the symbolic color of green. Moreover, the symbolic colors of Thiên phủ, Thoải phủ, Địa phủ one after another are red, white and yellow.
In Mother Goddesses Religion, gods and saints have no body and appearance but “soul” only. In rites of hầu đồng, mediums wallow in ritual music in an intoxicating state and wait for divinities to entrance them.
Chầu văn or hầu đồng, which almost all people, both rich and poor, are interested in, is a typical rite of Mother Goddesses Religion in Vietnam. It’s also a general form of folk art that requires investment and very meticulously preparation in lyrics, music, dance, and clothing by organizers. Its mysterious beauty of spirit and exciting feel of both singers and audience make people forget their miseries in daily life.
Reincarnation in mediumship or ritual dancing play a very important role in this rite. There are 72 reincarnations of mediumship, including: Reincarnation of Great Madarins, Reincarnation of Attendants, Reincarnation of Ladies of Honor and Reincarnation of Royal Damsels.
Each one has a different dance in proportion. In the ritual, mediums can close or open their eyes but have to concentrate to express the character or life of the divinity reincarnating. There usually are two assistants, Quỳnh and Quế, who follow the medium to prepare clothing. It’s necessary for them to conduct the rituals uninterrupted between reincarnations of two spirits. Dances are also different and depend on each reincarnation. Sometimes, mediums play the role of an august madarin, other times, they are a girl running here and there.
Reincarnations of Great Madarins usually have fencing dances or flag dances. Reincarnations of Ladies of Honor use fan dances or just hand dances that are very beautiful. Reincarnations of Ten Princes have turban dances or flag dances. The most beautiful and favorite are fan dances and flower dances or pilot dances, silk scarf dances, embroidery dances in reincarnations of Royal Damsels while reincarnations of Attendants are interesting because of its childishness and elfness with lion’s dances.
Rituals of hầu đồng take place in an order of reincarnation from high to low. So, dances also change from majestic style into flexible and gradually cheerful at the end.