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In Bắc Giang, 'Mudball' Is a Centuries-Old Festive Sport

Held once every four years, the mud wrestling festival in Vân Village in Bắc Giang Province is one of the most dramatic and unique festivals in all of Vietnam.

Before this year's event, 16 young men were picked by village elders and divided into two teams. They competed on a mud court, which is made by two unmarried girls using water from nearby Cầu River. They use pots created in neighboring Thổ Hà Village to carry the water. Finally, goals are placed on the east and west ends of the court in alignment with the sun.

The three-day festival, known as Khánh Hạ, takes place from the 12th to the 14th day of the fourth lunar month, which was May 26–28 on Western calendars this year. The young men compete at Chinh Temple, and the whole event is a celebration of Triệu Quang Phục and the Trương brother’s victory over black demons after returning from a battle against the Liang Army.

The special occasion dates back to the 4th or 5th century, but local villagers only started organizing it again in 2000. Competitors use a 1,000-year-old ironwood ball in the game, which weighs 20 kilograms and represents the sun.

Historically, the village has faced serious flooding so the act of fighting for the ball is symbolic of local people trying to bring back sunshine and end the flooding. It's believed that the more times that wrestlers can "steal" the ball, the more prosperous the next harvest will be.

After hours of gritty, slippery struggles, the event ended in chaos with people screaming along to drum beats and audience members running onto the court to celebrate with the winning team.

See more below:

Competitors pray together before the event.

A wrestling match between two chosen teammates decides who gets to kick-off.

The first of many face plants.

A competitor carries the 20-kilogram ironwood ball.

Competitors need to not only be strong, but also physically fit.

It's hard to get the ball, but even harder to keep hold of it.

Audience members try to protect themselves from the mud.

Inevitably, mud splashes on the crowd.

Every time the ball hits the ground, all 16 players have to lift it up high.

If someone is holding the ball, they will be lifted up too.

The game can be intensely physical.

Yet another competitor crashes down in the mud.

The young men lift the ball together after it falls once again.

Scoring a goal in the game can be extremely challenging.

An exhausted member of the losing team.

Both the winning and losing teams celebrate taking part after the event.

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