Students Pray At Temple’s Ancient Tablet For Good Exam Results, It Turns Out To Be “Dismount” Sign

Students pray at tablet in front of temple, it’s actually a dismount sign

The nationwide university entrance exam in Vietnam is just days away, and understandably, students are getting restless in preparation.

For those living in Hanoi, a long-running tradition, passed down across generations, is to visit the archaic Temple of Literature to pray for the blessings of ancient scholars.

Even though the temple is closed this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that hasn’t stopped hundreds of citizens from lining up in front of a solemn-looking stone tablet in front of it to offer their tributes.

Many don’t seem to realize the tablet is actually just a sign saying, “dismount from your horse” – the equivalent of a modern traffic sign.

Students and parents pray at a tablet in front of the Temple of Literature

Image credit: Kinh Tế Đô Thị

Erected a millennium ago, the Temple of Literature is believed to be the very first university of Vietnam – a place of privilege reserved only for the brightest of minds. Over the centuries, it trained generations of renowned scholars. Today, the site is preserved as a major historical landmark and place of worship in Hanoi.

Normally, the temple is particularly crowded during this time of the year. As it’s believed that praying at the temple will bring academic success, thousands of parents and students often flock here in the days leading up to Vietnam’s nationwide university entrance exam to offer their tribute.

Image credit: Kiến Thức

Unfortunately, this year, the temple is closed in light of the COVID-19 situation.

But that hasn’t stopped many adamant citizens from upholding their faith. They settled for the next best thing: setting up offerings and incense at an ancient-looking stone tablet at the temple’s entrance to pray.

The tablet in front of the temple is actually a “dismount” sign

Image credit: Temple of Literature

The thing is, if you take a look at the tablet, you’ll see that it bears inscriptions of the Sino-Vietnamese words 下 馬 (Vietnamese: Hạ Mã), meaning “Get off your horse”.

The same sign can actually be spotted at several other historical sites. Its original purpose is to tell entrants to get off their horses before they enter the buildings. Basically, it’s the equivalent of a modern-day traffic sign.

Perhaps over the centuries, this meaning has been lost to the people of the modern world, and the tablet’s solemn-looking appearance has led to the misunderstanding.

Worship smartly and responsibly

The university entrance exam is a major milestone in any Vietnamese student’s life. It is totally fine for them to want to turn to prayers for peace of mind and that confidence boost to perform well on the big day.

However, faiths and beliefs should be practiced responsibly, with knowledge of who – or what – we’re praying to. It’s the least we can do to show proper respect to the deities and to other worshippers.

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Cover image adapted from Kinh Tế Đô Thị and Temple of Literature

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Toan Ngo

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