Ly Cong Uan was both a talented king and a devoted Buddhist.
Ly Cong Uan, founder of the Ly Dynasty, was a native of Co Phap Commune (present-day Dinh Bang Commune, Bac Ninh Province). He was born on 8 March 974 and brought up by the Buddhist monk Ly Khanh Van, who lived at Co Phap Pagoda. Cong Uan served as a Buddhist novice at Quynh Lam Pagoda. Cong Uan server as Kien So Pagoda in Gia Lam, Ha Noi and was later trained by eminent Buddhist monk Van Hanh at Tieu Pagoda in Bac Ninh, Ly Cong Uan’s intelligence and talent appeared early. Ancient historical documents note,” Monk Van Hanh praises the boy (Cong Uan) as an unusual person who can settle all difficulties and will become a pre-eminent king.”
Ly Cong Uan as a man of remarkable bravery and physical strength. At twenty, he became a military officer in the Anterior Le Dynasty (980-1009). It is said that when Le Long Dinh killed his older brother, King Le Trung Tong, all the mandarins except Ly Cong Uan ran away. The an officer in the Royal Guards, he held the king’s corpse in his arms and cried bitterly. The tyrant Le Long Dinh usurped the throne after the assassination. However, he respected Cong Uan’s dignity and virtue and appointed him Deputy Senior General and then Chief Senior General.
Le Long Dinh’s cruelty destroyed the people’s respect for the Le Dynasty. After his death in 1009, mandarin Dao Cam Moc advised Ly Cong Uan to make himself king, saying” Your Excellency is tolerant and merciful, easily winning over the people’s hearts. At present, the people suffer under harsh policies imposed by the powers of clemency to console the people. They are sure to respect and obey you.”
However, Ly Cong Uan did not want to ascend the throne on his own. The Court discussed the matter and agreed to raise Chief Senior General Ly Cong Uan to emperor on 21 November 1009. According to historical documents, Ly Cong Uan,” bowing to Heaven’s Will and winning over the people’s heats, had the opportunity to open a new era. He was a king of leniency, tolerance, carefulness and amiability.” The Anterior Le Dynasty drew to a close: the new Ly Dynasty began, opening a brilliant era in the history of Vietnam.
In early 100, the king returned to his native village, Co Phap, and presented the elders with money and silk. He renamed his homeland as Thien Duc( Heavenly virtue) Prefecture. He visited his mother’s grave and designated a prace for the Ly King tombs at present-day Tho Lang Thien Duc.
It is said that on returning to his capital. Hoa Lu in today’s Ninh Binh Province, he chose the fifteenth day of the third lunar month to ascend the throne. He proclaimed himself Emperor Ly Thai To at noon on that day, naming his reign Thuan Thien( Bowing to Heaven’s Will). Since then, the villagers of Co Phap- Dinh Bang have held their annual Do Temple Festival on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month, commemorating Ly Cong Uan’s ascension to throne.
According to ancient documents,” In the autumn of year of Canh Tuat ( 1010), the emperor transferred the capital form Hoa Lu to the citadel Dai La. The choice of location for the new capital, as explained in” The Royal Edict on the Transfer of the Capital,’ was based on Ly Cong Uan’s knowledge of geomancy and geography. A golden dragon appeared as the royal boat anchored at the foot of the citadel. The emperor renamed the citadel Thang Long( Rising Dragon)”. After naming the new capital Thang Long to symbolize a promising future, Ly Cong Uan implemented far-reaching political and economic reforms. Succeeding generations reading Ly Cong Uan’s” Royal Edict” remember his remarkable vision.
The new king started his dynasty with comprehensive changes. He won the people’s support, cultivated obecdience to the Will fo Heaven as he had been taught, and implemented policy reforms embodying the slogan ”tolerance-simplification-stability-prosperity.”
Ly Cong Uan declared a general amnesty throughout the coutry and eradicated the network of prisons, allowing all plaintiffs to appeal to the Imperial Court, where the emperor could arbitrate the cases himself. He expressed his concern for justice and for his subject’s welfare by exempting the people from taxes for three years: by canceling all debts held by orphans, windows and the elderly: and by providing garments to newly freed prisoners. Those who had left their home villages to earn a living were permitted to return.
Ly Cong Uan renovated the country administration, dividing the ten former provinces into twenty-four units called lo. In 1010, Ly Cong Uan built Kien Nguyen Palace, with two other palaces, Tap Hien and Giang Vo, on either side. He conferred the posthumous tiles of King and Queen Mother on his parents. He appointed Dao Cam Moc, who had raised him to the throne, as a Duke and gave him the hand of a princess in marriage. He invited many famous Buddhist monks, including Van Hanh, Khanh Van, Da Bao, Vien Thong and Sung Pham, to participate in court affairs and hold influential positions equivalent to high ranking mandarins. A practicing Buddhist, Ly Cong Uan built and repaired pagodas, especially within Thang Long. He dispatched Luong Nham Van and Le Tai Nghiem to establish friendly diplomatic relations with the Song Dynasty in China. In 1019, he sent envoys to China bring back copies of Buddhist religious documents.
Ly Cong Uan reigned for nineteen years and died at Long An Palace in Thang Long on 31 March 1028 at the age of fifty-five. His tomb is the Long Chao grave within Tho Lang Thien Duc, a complex also containing the tombs of his mother anf of the succeeding Ly kings. Tho Lang Thien Duc is located in Dinh Bang Village on the Tieu Tuong River. Ly Cong Uan is worshipped along with the other kings of the illustrious Ly Dynasty at Do Temple in Dinh Bang.
Source: Ly Huong-Vietnam Cultural Window