Hoan Kiem Lake is a peaceful, yet mysterious place in Hanoi with its deep green waters. Here’s the myth surrounding the great Turtle that used to reside there.
*If you’re visiting Hanoi, check out these tips on what to do 🙂
The Turtle Watches The Struggle
The Turtle swam through the depths of the emerald green water watching, always watching. He watched how the Chinese Ming soldiers stormed Hanoi and set fire to the villages. He watched how generations of Vietnamese people were driven from their homes and killed or enslaved. And he watched how a young warrior named Lê Lợi vowed to free his people from these barbaric invaders.
Lê Lợi struggled valiantly. Though he was the son of a landowner and administrator, he was truly a man of the people; “Rise, brothers and sisters. For now, we face an enemy greater and stronger than ever before. But if we stay together with hearts brave and true, then nothing can defeat us.”
Over the years, his army of five hundred men grew to three hundred and fifty thousand men. Women and children cooked, farmed and built all for one cause; to free their country.
Palace Of The Dragon King
Battles raged and countless lives were lost. The angry skies turned black and the rivers red with sorrow. Still the will of the Vietnamese people remained as strong as steel. The Turtle decided that it was time for him to help. He swam deeper and deeper beneath the green Luc Thuy lake until he came to the majestic golden gates of the Dragon King’s palace.
Warily, the Turtle stepped forward onto the marble and sapphire paved path and entered the mother of pearl doors which were held open by quivering seahorses. The temper of the Dragon King was well known across lakes and oceans and fish of the sea often threatened their mischievous children with his name. But the Turtle was determined.
After three of his footsteps echoed loudly in the great hall a terrible voice called out “Who disturbs my slumber?” The Turtle swallowed his fear and replied “It…It is I O Gr…Great Dragon. The Humble Turtle of the lake.”
The Turtle’s Task
A gigantic head emerged above a mountain of gold coins, trophies, precious gems and fine silks. The head was scarred and scaly with bloodshot eyes and a smoky mouth. The head however, appeared deep in thought. “Yes. I have been waiting for you.” The Dragon said.
“Waiting for me Sire?” The Turtle was puzzled.
“Yes. Waiting to see when your own courage would match that of Lê Lợi and his people. And now you have proven yourself by coming to me… Almost” He smiled a smile of razor sharp teeth. “Humble Turtle, come and test your will to free the land of Vietnam.”
Opening his mouth, he revealed a sword as long as the spine of a giant and as sharp the precipice of hell. “This is the sword I have used to ward off all my enemies. Water Demons, mountain giants and the Gods themselves have been defeated by it. Take this sword from me to prove your bravery and then my services shall be yours.”
Courage And Fire
The Turtle gulped and stepped forward. The Dragon lashed a whip of hell fire around him. The Turtle was trapped. It took another step forward and more fire choked him. He looked up into the scarlet eyes of the Dragon and his resolve strengthened in the wake of death. For he would save his country or die for it. As his heart began to thump with courage instead of fear, his shell hardened into a black rock so strong and thick that it resisted the flames.
The Turtle drew his head into the shielding shell and slowly crept forward with fire beating down on him. He began to climb the Dragon’s back and would not be thrown off despite countless twists and turns. He rolled into the Dragons mouth with his fire-proof shell around him and snatched the sword from the mouth of death.
Defeat Of The Dragon
The Dragon lay down, accepting his defeat. “O Turtle you have shown great courage in the face of adversity. I am happy to accept you as my Master. Tell me, how can I help you to help Vietnam?” the Turtle, still not quite able to believe his victory, thought for a long while. Finally he said, “Dragon, you must give this very sword to the leader of the Vietnamese, Lê Lợi. For he is a great warrior and with this sword, he will surely free Vietnam.”
The Dragon was a creature of his word and so he agreed. However, the Turtle saw sorrow in his eyes. “Do not worry. I promise to return this sword to you as soon as the war is won.” And with this, the happy Dragon swam to the top of the lake with the Turtle on his back. All the creatures of the lake marveled at the sight of the humble Turtle commanding a creature so fearful and magnificent!
The Dragon and the Turtle emerged at the surface of the lake. Houses and farms lay in ashes all around. This is where they relinquished the sword. The Dragon whispered to the ripples in the water to call Lê Lợi.
The Sword Of Victory
Lê Lợi, weary from training his troops came to the lake in search of water. There he found a mysterious hilt engraved with the words ‘the will of heaven’. In the distance he heard a shout and found a fisherman on the other side of the lake holding a blade as sharp as the precipice of hell.
Immediately he knew this sword was his. It took all his strength to lift it, but once it was secure in his grip, he felt strength, power and courage course down his veins. He ran all the way back to his soldiers with euphoria shouting “Tomorrow! Tomorrow we will win this war!”
And win the war they did. The next day, Lê Lợi led a battalion to Tot Dong and killed the Chinese General Liu Shan. Then they rode like the wind and lured the rest of the Chinese army to Hanoi, where the Vietnamese army was strongest. There the Chinese were trapped and forced to surrender and Vietnam was finally free.
The Lake Of The Restored Sword
However, the Turtle was mindful of his promise and soon after Vietnam was recognized as an independent nation, he swam to a boat in which Lê Lợi was sailing on the lake. Quietly, he removed the sword from Lê Lợi’s belt and swam away. Lê Lợi turned and saw the creature with the sword glowing in his mouth. The Turtle stared back at him and the two silently understood that the sword must be returned. The Turtle then swam back into the depths of the lake of the restored sword.
What did you think of this story? Who was the hero, Lê Lợi’ or the Turtle? What meanings can you infer from the story? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to chat :).
Have you read the story behind The Roads Of Hanoi yet?
Here’s more info on the real turtle that lived in the Hoan Kiem lake (and sadly died in 2011) – do you believe the myth?