A royal homecoming

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Nearly three centuries after his death, a king of the Le Dynasty prepares to return home for reburial

The depiction of a Le Dynasty funeral in the 17th century by a Western artist

The mortal remains of King Le Du Tong (1679-1731) of the Le Dynasty at the National History Museum in Hanoi. Under a proposal being considered, the body, found by a farmer in 1958 in Thanh Hoa Province, will be reburied in the king's hometown next month.

Descendants of Le's family are speeding up preparations to move the mortal remains of King Le Du Tong (1679-1731) from the National History Museum in Hanoi to his hometown in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

A representative of the Council of Vietnam's Le Family told Thanh Nien that descendants of the Le family and provincial authorities plan to start building a tomb in Xuan Quang Commune on the "double ninth" date (September 9) of the lunar calendar which falls on October 26 this year.

A ceremony will be held on the lunar calendar's double tenth date (October 10) which falls on December 26. The "double ninth and double tenth" dates are two of 12 traditional ceremonial days believed to be auspicious days to begin an important activity.

The tomb will be built to royal standards and the ceremony will be a stately one, according to a proposal made by the Thanh Hoa Province's People's Committee to the government.

Bags and other objects found in the coffin of the 22nd king of the Le Dynasty

Royal dress found in the cofin

While the ceremony's details have not been disclosed yet, Thanh Nien learned that the Le family has ordered a coffin made of a precious wood from the Central Highlands region.

They are also going to order royal clothes and other things like paper fans and brocade bags for the funeral from the central town of Hue in accordance with what were found in the king's coffin when it was discovered in 1958, as all of the original belongings will be kept at the museum.

The representative, who did not want to be named since the proposal was still awaiting approval, also said that on the double tenth date, after the ceremony, the body of the 22th king of the Le Dynasty (1428-1788) would be taken home along the Ho Chi Minh Highway.

On the way, the procession may stop at the Lam Kinh Historic Citadel where several kings of the dynasty rest, including its founder Le Thai To, also known as Le Loi, to pay tribute.

The mortal remains of Le Du Tong will then be reburied several kilometers from this site.

45-year journey

According to historical records, Le Du Tong was crowned in 1705 and oversaw a period of peace and prosperity for 24 years before passing away in 1731 at 52.

The king was buried in Bo Ve Village, Dong Son District (now Thanh Hoa Town), according to the Le royal family annals.

Kham dinh viet su thong giam cuong muc (General History of Vietnam by Imperial Order of the Nguyen Dynasty), meanwhile, says he was first buried at the Co Do royal tomb in Dong Son and later moved to the Kim Thach tomb in Loi Duong District (now covering Tho Xuan and Thuong Xuan districts).

However, in February, 1958 a farmer in Bai Trach Hamlet, Tho Xuan District came across an outer coffin while digging in his garden. He then broke a hole in it and found a gold-inlaid coffin inside.

After this discovery, local agencies used cement to fill up the hole and handed the coffin over to local authorities.

In 1964, the coffin was moved to the National History Museum as directed by then Prime Minister Pham Van Dong because it was no longer safe to be kept in Tho Xuan District, where it was the target of tomb raiders.

On April 2 that year the museum opened the coffin, which was made of precious po mu wood, and had two bottoms with a 10- centimeter-thick layer of roasted rice in between.

Only then could historians confirm the body was Le Du Tong's, based on historic records and what they found in the coffin, including eight brocade layers embroidered with dragons, a book, a bag containing finger nails and teeth, and a box of betel and areca nuts.

According to experts, the only complete body belonging to royalty discovered in Vietnam so far was embalmed without having its brain and internal organs removed, which is different from most other embalmed bodies. Tests later showed that although the body had shrunk, it was still soft and its joints could move.

The body has been kept at the museum ever since its identity was established. It was first put on display without using proper preservation techniques, worsening its condition and putting it at risk of disintegrating.

This prompted the descendants of the Le family to ask in 1996 that the king's body be brought home for reburial.

Although the museum later placed the body in a glass coffin under improved preservation methods, the Le family persisted with their proposal, saying it was a traditional custom for the deceased to be buried in his hometown.

However, no related agencies dealt with the family's proposal for more than a decade until some experts voiced their agreement with it late last year.

"With our country's hot and humid weather, the king's body has been deformed and will disintegrate sooner or later... It's really necessary to send King Le Du Tong's body back to Thanh Hoa for burial as our ancestors did [with deceased people]," said a report by the Center of Tradition and History Education sent to President Nguyen Minh Triet last November.

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