Vietnamese folk verses have sayings: "In the pond there is none prettier than the lotus. Green leaves, white petals and yellow stamens. Yellow stamens, white petals and green leaves. It rises out of the mud but does not smell of mud"
In the Vietnamese fine art, the lotus subject has been exploited in many types of materials and types of antiquities. On Thanh Mai bronze bell that was casted in 789 and now being preserved in Hanoi Museum, we can see bands of lotus carved on the shoulder and around the bell's knob. In particular, the lotus has been a symbol for the Buddhist art since Ly dynasty. It was decorated on the pagoda's column base of the Ly dynasty. For example, it was embossed on the base of the Buddha statue in Phat Tich Pagoda, the oldest stone Buddha statue in Vietnam. It was also featured on the ceramic pot, bowl and situlae... celadon, white and brown glazed.
The legend of the One Pillar Pagoda (chùa Một Cột) told that in a spring night of the year 1049, King Ly Thai Tong dreamed of Bodhisatva who took him to the lotus pedestal. Then he ordered to build a pagoda by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond with a lotus pedestal to hold the Bodhisatva, similar to the one he saw in the dream. It looked far away as a giant lotus flower rising out of the pond with the pillar as its stem.
Also in Hanoi, the Kim Lien pagoda (meaning a golden lotus) that was built in the middle 18th century reminded an image of a lotus blooming on the pond because of its architectural design and surrounded by the pond. The other, the inscription on the bell of the Lien Phai pagoda (Hanoi) wrote the monk's prayer as: "Mún ma ni bát mê hồng" meaning praying for being on the precious lotus pedestal.
The lotus represented for the summer in the four seasons. In the Buddhist sculpture art, the lotus is accompanied with the Buddha who sits for mediation or stands to preach on the lotus pedestal. The lotus is one of the eight treasures in the Buddhism and the miracle of the Buddha.
In the collection of Hue Royal art in the Vietnam National Museum of History, there are many objects with the subject of the lotus flower or lotus leaf, in bronze and silver. For example, the betel trays, betel box, face washing basin, candle holder, wine pot... all were used in the Nguyen Royal Family.
A box for keeping the betel and areca nut made of silver has a shape of two lotus flowers laid on each other, was constructed in three separate parts: lid, container and base. It is 16cm high and has a diameter of 11,7cm. The lid was decorated into 3 layers of lotus petals.
Another box for keeping the betel and areca nut was made in gold and had a same design as the above one. It is 14cm height, 10cm diameter
A betel tray was made in a shape of a blooming lotus flower. It is 4,7cm height, 10,8cm diameter. It was really a wonder of the gold made in Nguyen dynasty.
A washing basin was made in gold and in a shape of a lotus leaf. Its leg was designed as the lotus stem. It is 11,5cm height, 29,9cm diameter and 760gr weight.
A pair of candle stand was made of gold, 25cm height. The base was designed as an upturned lotus leaf. The body comprised lotus flower, but and seed pod. The candle holding part was designed as a
lotus leaf. The inscription said: “八 五 歲 金 重 九 両 九 錢 五 分" (meaning about the age and weight of the gold material).
Through a study over the Nguyen collection in the Vietnam National Museum of History, we know about the name of the craftsmen, who did for the Nguyen collection, such as Le Van Truong, Le Khuong, Nguyen Tan, etc... For example, the name of Nguyen Tan was inscribed on 9 artifacts made in Minh Menh King's reign. They are a golden censer and a silver ladle made in 1820, a golden cuspidor in 1824, 5 pieces of silver compotes in 1827, a silver tray in 1821.
Dr. Nguyen Dinh Chien (Former Deputy Director of the VNMH)
EN: Tran Trang