My Son Sanctuary – trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva at the heart of the Cham people

My Son Vietnam“I go first, then you go! I die first, then you die! buhahahahaa”

These were the words of our guide in My Son. You should hear his low voice, accent and intonation. It reminds me of Samurai talk in Kurosawa movies. P. can really do this talk.

In the morning of our departure from Hoi An we went on a day trip to My Son, a spiritual hear to the Kingdom of Champa.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I found my entrance ticket and so I know we went there on 17th Nov 2009. Let me rewrite what it says on the back:

In  Duy Phu Village, Duy Xuyen district, Quang Nam province, at My Son valley, there is still a most important complex of Hindu temple-towers which is a symbol of Champa art and countinuously developed from the 4th century to the 13th century.

The ancient Champa people were raised to be “the masters of art in building brick”. So far the technique in building the ancient temple-towers of Champa people remains controversial. The bricks were smoothed and laid closely and securely without mortar. My Son’s value is also refected in the art of lively and fine sculpture and craving on brick, stone from the images of deities, priests, dancers, plants, animals and sacrifices…

Because of its prominent value as an example of cultural exchange and integration of external cultures, especially the art and architecture of Hinduism with the native culture, combined with lively reflection of the Champa Kingdomin South East Asia cultural history, in December 1999, UNESCO listed My Son a World Cultural Heritage.

My Son boardThe day was rainy  we got to the site and followed our guide to jeeps. We got really excited. I think it was my second life in this type of a car. For me they seemed to be those old American ones you could see in M.A.S.H. There was going to be a ride through jungle and I got to sit on the side. This site is truly worth the visit and the guide was very funny and outgoing. The history of Cham people and their religious celebrations were very interesting. As in many places around the World you can find phallic symbols that minght not be so obvious in the first place.My Son jeep Like the pyramid shape of a roof in a tower underneath which and altar in a shape of phallus is located. The pictures will come later keep on reading.

The American War destroyed many of the site’s temples. The Viet Cong had used My Son as a key base which forced US bombing of the site leaving about 20 of the original 70 structures intact. Bomb craters next to some of the temples are clearly visible. Now you understand why the guide was warning us to follow his footsteps and not to wander too far from the main area. You never know when you step on a mine or a bomb.

Our guide at My SonMy Son is located in a picturesque valley surrounded by hills and overlooked by Cat’s Tooth Mountain (Hon Quap) – also called My Son mountain (“Good Mountain”). Clear streams run between the structures and past nearby coffee plantations. Some people compare it to Angkor, I think I wouldn’t go as far as that, but still My Son is impressive and seems more wild and adventurous than Ankor. I love the way hills are covered with jungle.

It might be hard to imagine how different it looked in it’s heyday. It has been said that at the height of the Cham power, the summits of the temples were layered in gold but these have been stripped since by various invaders.My Son sanctuary

Each historical period has its own identity, so that each temple worshiping a genie or a king of a different dynasty has its own architectural style of different impression. All of the Cham towers were built on a quadrate foundations and each comprises three parts: a solid tower base, representing the world of human beings, the mysterious and sacred tower body, representing the world of spirits, and the tower top built in the shape of a man offering flowers and fruits or of trees, birds, animals, etc., representing things that are close to the spirits and human beings. The site is divided into different parts coded by letters from A to N.

  • Group A and A’ (also called Pagoda tower by the local) consist of 17 works.
  • Group B, G, D (Market tower) consist of 27 works.
  • Group E, F (Hd Khé tower) consist of 5 works.
  • Group H (Chess tower) consist of 4 works.
  • Group K consist of2 works.   .
  • Different works: L, M and N

My Son towerA 24 meters high tower was found in the Thap Chua area (coded A1 by archaeologists and researchers on My Son). This tower is a masterpiece of ancient Cham architecture. It has two doors, one in the east and the other in the west. The tower body is high and delicate with a system of paved pillars; six sub-towers surrounding the tower. This two-storey tower looks like a lotus flower. The top of the upper layer is made of sandstone and carved with elephant and lion designs. In the lower layer, the walls are carved with fairies, water evils and men riding elephants.

The main tower (kalan ) symbolizes the sacred Mi Sonmountain (meru ) at the centre of the universe. The square or rectangular base (bhurloka ), representing the human world, is built from brick or stone blocks and decorated with reliefs. Above this rises the main tower (bhuvakola ), constructed entirely in brick, with applied columns and a false door facing east. The interiors are plain, with small niches for lamps; the Shivalingam was situated on a plinth in the centre. It symbolized the spirit world. The towers were separated from their roofs (suarloka ) by a decorated frieze.

My Son libraryThe two long mandapas, assembly halls were built for pilgrims who used the halls to prepare offerings for temple visits.

The best preserved object is a library where holy books were stored. See picture on the left and detailed cravings on the wall on the right (black and white picture).My Son library carvings There is a Polynesian, Javan influence in the shape of the inverted boat. As our guide said: “Cham people came from Jaaaaavaaaaa” (it’s funny only when you hear him saying it, when you visit you will understand).

Inside E1 temple was a altar consisting of assembled sandstone blocks, (displayed at Ba Nang Museum of Cham sculpture). It was delicately carved with sights of dancing, playing stringed instruments and flute; and uninterrupted chain of carving including the activities of Brahmins such aspreaching, preparing drugs, treating, etc…These sights were separated by leafy decorative motifs stylized by curved lines tocreate retroversion in the middle of which there are My Son gate towersdiamond- shaped frames alternating with flowers. The two gate towers, you can see on the left are located west of E1 temple.

Coming back to the promissed phallic symbols, some of them are more obvious. Have a look at this two 1000 year old stone sculpture on the right that leaves little to the imagination. A linga (or lingam) is a phallic post that serves as a representation of Shiva. Cham kings frequently erected and dedicated stone lingas as the central religious images in royal temples. The name a Cham king would give to such a linga would be a composite of the king’s own name and suffix “-esvara”, which stands for Shiva. The linga, the mukhalinga, the jatalinga, the segmented linga, and the kosa were the main symbols of Cham Shaivism. If you follow the link to Wikipedia you will find out the difference.

phallic symbol My Son My Son linga

The largest collection of Cham art is on exhibit at the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang.

If you would like to find out more I recommend this web-site:


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