An important aspect of the Vietnamese cultural heritage is the Cham (or Champa) period. The Cham people originally inhabited large parts of south-east Asia and Vietnam was no exception. One of their most important religious sites was the My Son temple complex. This is a series of Hindu temple complexes located near modern day Danang built by the Cham people between 400-1400 A.D.. While large parts of the complex were destroyed during the Vietnam war, a number of temples still remains.
My Son is a very popular site for tourists due to its inherent beauty and its notability as UNESCO world heritage site. Even outside of the tourist season the place has a lot of visitors and is a must see for people traveling through central Vietnam. It is therefore that a number of people from the project decided to visit this site on our day off, under guidance of a tour guide from the Vietnamese ministry of culture.
The site of My-Son holds so much value to the Cham basically due to a number of facts. First of all, an important aspect of the Champ culture was its intangible heritage, which are their music, dances, and rituals. This type of heritage also plays an important role at the My Son site with a number of acts being performed at regular times such as dancing, singing, and musical performances. Due to the Champa people being spread over such a wide area at the height of their culture, these different intangible heritage aspects are present in multiple countries in this region.
There are a number of different buildings in this temple complex, build in different time periods. The 4 main buildings still standing are the Kalan, the Mandapa, the Kosagrha, and the Gopura. These 4 buildings all have different functions and meanings:
The Kalan, one of the most important buildings, is a sanctuary in which a deity houses. These sanctuaries are often “tower shaped” buildings constructed out of brick and play a major role in the ritual process of the Cham people.
The Mandapa Is not necessarily a functional building in itself, but more of a hallway leading to the main sanctuary/ritual building. While it is not a specifically interesting or important building by itself it still plays an important role in the ritual process.
The Kosagra is also known as the fire-house and is used as a storehouse for a deity’s valuables and other objects. It is therefore closely related to the Kalan.
Finally you have the Gopura. These are basically the buildings through which you enter a ritual site and therefor they play an aesthetically important role.
While there are a number of temples still standing in My Son, a large part of the complex has been partially destroyed. This is not due to natural erosion as one might expect however, but it is because the site was bombed during the Vietnam war. (Unexploded) bombs that were dropped here during this period of destruction are shown in some of the temples and are a permanent part of the exhibition.
Even though the site has largely been destroyed, it is still one of the major religious complexes in the region and shares a similar function as Angkor, even though it is not quite as famous.
If you want to learn more about this project, or any of the surrounding (UNESCO) sites then please follow us on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vietnam-Maritime-Archeology-Project/308532315956425
Greetings from Hoi-An,