The village communal house (Vietnamese: đình) is a traditional architectural work in a Vietnamese village, a place for worshipping the god helping and protecting the villagers (Vietnamese: Thành Hoàng Bổn Cảnh Chi Thần, briefly: Thần Hoàng) and a place for a meeting of villagers.
Originally, the village communal houses were just places for travelers. In 1231, King Tran Nhan Tong ordered to build Buddha statues to worship here. In 1491, the king allowed the people to beat the drums when they are victims of a glaring injustice. These were also the places to post and explain the policies of the feudal state of Dai Viet (Vietnam now).
The village communal houses as places for worshipping of village gods and places for the meeting of the people probably began in the early Le dynasty (1428 – 1527) and settled shape in the Mac dynasty (1527 – 1683). Perhaps the development of Confucianism in the late 15th century transplanted village gods into the village communal houses.
The village communal houses are built based on the principles of feng shui. The location of the village communal houses is different from the one of Buddhist pagodas. While Buddhist pagodas are usually located in quiet and hidden places, the village communal houses mainly are usually located in central places. Ideally, the village communal houses have an airy location overlooking the river. If there is no natural lake or river, the villagers sometimes dug wells in front of the village communal houses to have a “water convergence” position because they think it is a sign that brings goodness to the village.
Gate and yard
The gate of village communal houses is usually built in the style of the three-door gate. The 2 main columns of the village communal houses have a pair of parallel sentences with Chinese characters. On 2 columns is the name board of a village communal house.
The top of the gate has 2 statues of dragons struggling a precious stone ball. The yard of Village communal houses is usually large and covered with red bricks. The two sides of the village communal houses often have a small temple worshipping the Earth God and a small temple worshipping the Agricultural God. Around village communal houses, there are usually old big banyan trees. Before the stairs to the main building, there are 2 statues of animals the same as lions, sitting to keep the door (Vietnamese: con nghê)
The Village communal house is a big house with many compartments: The one is used to worship the Village God (Vietnamese: Thần Hoàng) and the gods helping him in protecting and helping villager (Vietnamese: Tả Ban, Hữu Ban), the one is used to worship the first people reclaiming unused land, setting up the village, building the market and the village communal house (Vietnamese: Tiền Hiền, Hậu Hiền), the one is used to perform classical operas for the gods and villagers to enjoying (Võ Ca). The village communal house is usually built of precious large round wooden pillars placed on big rocks. Timbers, crossbars, and longitudinal bars of the village communal house are also made of fine wood and carved skillfully. The wall of the village communal house is built of bricks.
The roof of the village communal is covered with yin yang tiles, corners are bent. On the roof of the temple are two statues of dragons looking at the moon. In the village communal house, there is a large drum to beat on holidays and urge the villagers to gather and discuss the village’s work.
Each year, the village communal houses have 2 festivals: The one when beginning rice crop (Vietnamese: Lễ Hạ Điền) in May of the lunar calendar, the one when ending rice crop (Vietnamese: Lễ Thượng Điền) in December of the lunar calendar. Every festival lasts for 3 days consisting of many ceremonies and many performing times of classical opera (Vietnamese: Hát Bội). On these occasions, the villagers gather to worship, eat, drink, entertain and relax. Thanks to that, the spirit of solidarity in the village is strengthened.