Nha Nhac: Vietnam's Royal Court Music

Nha Nhac, meaning “elegant music”, refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century

By Quang Binh Tourism Department

Thua Thien Hue Province Department of Tourism

Royal Court music orchestra by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nha Nhac performances formerly featured numerous singers, dancers and musicians dressed in sumptuous costumes. Large-scale orchestras included a prominent drum section and many other types of percussion instruments as well as a variety of wind and string instruments. All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since they were expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulously.

"Unicorn mother gives birth to her young" performance by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

In Eastern culture, including Vietnam, Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix are the four sacred animals that are highly respected (Tu Linh). In the folklore of the Northern Delta, there was a "Tu linh" dance. Later, the Nguyen court set up a palace dance to serve in ceremonies in the palace. "Unicorn mother gives birth to her young" is a dance built on the basis of the "Tu linh" dance, praising the happiness of the family and the longevity of mankind.

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nha Nhac was generally featured at the opening and closing of ceremonies associated with anniversaries, religious holidays, coronations, funerals and official receptions.

Fan dance - 'Vu phien' by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Fan dance is often performed in banquets, wedding parties, for the Nguyen's Queen, Concubine, and Princess in Hue. The dance praises love life, blessing for the harmony and happiness of the family.

Fan dance - 'Vu phien' 2 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Fan dance - 'Vu phien' 3 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

A screenplay from "Huu bien vo hinh" - Ghost hunting. The play is about the time when the world is filled with monsters, destroying and harming human kind, disregarding morality. The Jade Emperor sent a general to the mortal world to fight against these monsters, saving human kind. Despite encountering many challenges, the Divine Generals finally fulfilled the mission entrusted by the Jade Emperor. The ancient play expressed the faith that the good always wins the evil, even when the evil always exists under different forms and shapes.

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play 2 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nha Nhac performances formerly featured numerous singers, dancers and musicians dressed in sumptuous costumes. Large-scale orchestras included a prominent drum section and many other types of percussion instruments as well as a variety of wind and string instruments.

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play 3 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play 4 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since they were expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulously.

Ghost hunting' - 'Huu bien vo hinh' play 5 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

The origin of 'Lantern Dance' - or 'Luc cung hoa dang' is from a dance used in Buddhist rituals: "Luc cung" dance means six times of worship, expressed through six dances, each time offering a sacrificial such as: incense, flowers, lantern, tea, fruit, food. Later, during the reign of King Minh Mang, this dance was brought into the court and choreographed into a complete 'Luc cung hoa dang' to perform in the Emperor and royalties' birthdays... In the dance, male and female dancers, dressed as Tien Dong - Ngoc Nu (Fairy boys and girls), holding two lotus flower pots while dancing and singing in the flickering flower lantern lights, creating a solemn and splendor atmosphere.

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 2 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 3 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Nha Nhac developed during the Le dynasty (1427-1788) and became highly institutionalized and codified under the Nguyen monarchs (1802-1945). As a symbol of the dynasty’s power and longevity, Nha Nhac became an essential part of the court’s many ceremonies. However, the role of Nha Nhac was not limited to musical accompaniment for court rituals: it also provided a means of communicating with and paying tribute to the gods and kings as well as transmitting knowledge about nature and the universe.

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 4 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 5 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 6 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Lantern dance' - Luc cung hoa dang 7 by Tran Tuan VietQuang Binh Tourism Department

Hue Royal Court Music was recognized by UNESCO as the first Intangible Cultural Heritage of Vietnam in 2003. In 2008, Hue Royal Court Music is listed into Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Credits: Story

Photographs by Tran Tuan Viet

Credits: All media
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