30 Photos 30 Days: #18: At the Elephant Temple – 1

elephant temple chicken
“Hm, I wonder what’s on the other side…”

While visiting the Elephant Temple in the countryside about five km south-west of Huế, I watched as half a dozen chickens and roosters peered through this gate before hesitantly strutting through.

According to legend, during the period of warfare between the ruling Trịnh and Nguyễn families (1627-73), a heroic soldier died in a ferocious battle and his grief-stricken elephant ran two kilometres from the battlefield to Thọ Cương Hill. As the elephant arrived, he trumpeted once, long and loud, then fell and breathed his last breath. The local residents were so moved by this demonstration of loyalty that they held a funeral for the elephant and built a grave  where he had fallen. They named it Screaming Elephant Grave.

After Gia Long became king in 1802, he ordered a temple built beside the grave to honour military elephants who died in battle. He named the temple Long Châu Miếu but the locals called it Điện Voi Ré, Screaming Elephant Temple. Rituals were organised twice a year, in spring and autumn, to make offerings for the heroic elephants.

Built in 1817 according to Feng Shui principles, the temple, which consists of several structures, sits on a hill facing a lotus lake surrounded by trees.

Điện Voi Ré is about 400 metres from Hổ Quyền, the Tiger Arena, where elephants once fought with tigers for the amusement of the emperors.

Unfortunately for the tigers, the elephants symbolised the king, and the tigers, the enemy. For this reason, the fights were fixed by declawing and starving the tigers, and the elephants always won. Despite the cruel treatment, once in a while an angered tiger would mortally injure an elephant.

Screaming Elephant Temple was recognised by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site in 1993.

***

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About Chris Galvin

Chris Galvin is a Canadian writer, editor and photographer dividing her time between Canada and Viet Nam. Her essay Flood Season was a finalist for the 2012 Best of the Net prize, and Discovering Hến Rice in Central Việt Nam won third place (shared) and a Readers’ Choice Award in the 2015 I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary journals, including Descant, Asian Cha, PRISM International, Room, and others. She has written in Vietnamese and English for Vietnam Tourism Review/Kham Pha Du Lich Vietnam Magazine, Travellive, and Du Lich Giai Tri. Chris is currently looking for a home for her recently completed manuscript, Breakfast Under the Bodhi Tree, a book about living, eating, and tour-guiding in Viet Nam.
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10 Responses to 30 Photos 30 Days: #18: At the Elephant Temple – 1

  1. Evelyn says:

    How did you entice that rooster into posing for you? Great shot! And I love the history of this place. I think elephants are quite magnificent, don’t you? Are there elephants where you live?

    • chris says:

      They are magnificent indeed! At one time, Viet Nam had many elephants, but sadly most of the ones still around live in captivity. In the time of Gia Long, they were honoured as brave, strong, intelligent animals.

  2. Lynda Bruce says:

    And what about tigers? fascinating story and great shot!!

  3. Tthank you for sharing this Chris. The photo and the accompanying text are nothing short of inspirational.

  4. Jennifer says:

    What a moving and magical story! Poor elephant.

  5. Gorgeous shot, Chris. What a cooperative model he is 😉 Very interesting but sad story… lovely that they honoured the elephants, but poor tigers. Thanks for the history lesson!

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