The unique mud wrestling festival takes place biennially from the 12th to the14th of the fourth lunar month in Van Village, nestled in Viet Yen District in the northern province of Bac Giang.
The highlight of the festival is the mud ball wrestling competition, when several loin-cloth clad contenders elbow and push each other through hard, sludgy mud, hoping to get their hands on the wooden ball and carry it to one of the pits at the end of the pitch.
As legend has it, the festival originated during the fourth and fifth centuries, when four brothers Truong Hong, Truong Hach, Truong Lung and Truong Lay defeated a group of demons in a mud ball wrestling match in a marsh.
Since then, the demons have been requesting that the game continue to be played as a way to entertain the village heads.
Sixteen muscular, single men with no diseases, birth defects, or criminal offenses are hand-picked and receive training on three afternoons before the fest begins.
Before the festival, local women carry mud from the Cau River and pour the slush onto the 200 square meter yard. The game lasts three hours.
Players score by securing the ball and ducking into the two deep pits dug at either end of the field. The ball is normally stored in the temple that overlooks the pitch and is only taken out for the game, which is designed to promote solidarity and highlight sportsmanship.
Below are a series of photos by Nguyen Khac Thanh featuring the special festival.
These photos were one of the entries to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper's year-long competition themed “Vietnam – Country – People" concluding in October.
The globe, made from jackfruit wood, weighs about 20 kilograms and measures 40 centimeters in diameter.
The fest draws a big eager crowd.
Players chase after the elusive ball.
A woman from Van Village carries mud to be poured into the yard in preparation for the game.
An elderly woman’s blouse is stained with mud as she leaves the fest.
Before competing, wrestlers perform a rite at Van Village Temple.
Several wrestlers show signs of fatigue during the fierce competition.
The winning team celebrates their triumphant victory.