King Ly Thai-To

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This is a monument to Emperor Ly Thai-To, founder of the Ly dynasty (1010-1225), next to Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Ly Thai-To moved the capital to today's Hanoi and named the new city Thang Long, Soaring Dragon. In Ly Thai-To's reign the Temple of Literature was founded and Buddhism flourished.

One version of his life is as follows:

"One night, Ly Khanh Van, Superior of the Ung Tam pagoda dreamed that a genie had appeared to him in his sleep. "His Majesty the Emperor is waiting at your gates," said the genie. "Go forth and receive him."

When the Superior awakened in the early hours of the morning, he recalled the dream and went to the gates of the pagoda to investigate. There he found the body of a young woman who was already dead; at her side lay a newborn male child. The Superior gave the woman a decent burial and himself took charge of the child, whom he named Ly Cong Uan, adopting him as his own son.

As soon as the lines of the orphan's hands had formed, it was seen that they vaguely resembled the characters son ha (mountains and rivers) and xa tac (Genie of the Earth and Genie of the Harvests), which, taken together meant "empire".

When Ly Cong Uan reached the age of nine, the Superior realized that he was incapable of teaching him further. Accordingly, he was enrolled in the school conducted by Van Hanh, a bonze who had the reputation of being the most learned scholar of his time. Under the tutelage of this wise master, Ly Cong Uan progressed rapidly, not only in theology but also in Confucian philosophy and military science.

In recognition of his vast knowledge, Ly Cong Uan was named a court mandarin. In 1009, with the death of Le Long Dinh (known as Ngoa Trieu – "the Reclining Emperor"), the Le dynasty came to an end and in the following year Ly Cong Uan was unanimously acclaimed emperor by the other court mandarins. His old tutor contributed to the preparation for his former disciple's succession by spreading prophecies among the people of a coming change of dynasty. On ascending the throne he took the reign name of Ly Thai-To.

Since Ly Thai-To was a fervent Buddhist, the bonzes enjoyed many privileges during his reign. For example, in 1O18, public funds were used for the manufacture of their bells. Later, he sent an embassy to China to look for authentic Buddhist prayer books.

Ly Thai-To ruled for nineteen years and died in the year 1028 at the age of fifty-five."

The above article is condensed from an article of Tran Thong,

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