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Saturday, March 09, 2013

My Son: Hinduism in Vietnam

Today, Hinduism is a religion that is more or less limited to India, but in yester years, it had spread its wings far into the east. Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and even Vietnam had prominent and successful Hindu kingdoms. The eastern most Hindu kingdom that ever existed was at My Son in Central Vietnam. It is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indo china, but a large portion of its architecture was destroyed by US carpet bombing during a single week of the Vietnam war.

Beautiful green ruins of My Son Kingdom - a UNESCO World Heritage Site
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a cluster of Hindu temples in ruins that are dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, who was known under various local names, the most important of which is Bhadresvara. It was sometime between the 4th and the 13th centuries that this Indian Hinduism culture developed on the coast of contemporary Vietnam. This was the Champa kingdom and My Son was its religious and political capital. Today, the entire site is located in the Duy Xuyen district of Quang Nam province in Central Vietnam and is located about 50 kilometers south of the tourist hot spot of Hoi An, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeology folks are still trying to put together the blocks of the My Son Hindu Temples
The My Son monuments are considered unique and without equal in Southeast Asia. It is an exceptional example of cultural exchange, with an indigenous society adapting to external cultural influences, notably the Hindu art and architecture of the Indian sub-continent. And the Champa kingdom was an important phenomenon in the political and cultural history of Southeast Asia, which is vividly illustrated by the ruins of My Son.

Beautiful Apsaras dancing at My Son, Vietnam
The My Son temple complex is regarded as one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia such as Borobudur of Java in Indonesia, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Bagan of Myanmar and Ayutthaya of Thailand.

Weather and War Beaten statue at My Son, Vietnam
This extinct civilization that exists today in ruins looks magnificent against the green mountains and on closer inspection makes you realize that not only the views, but the entire civilization behind it in its hey days was very grand. One can get a good idea about the place, the culture and its rich history by visiting the museum of cham culture at Danang and then the My Son temple complex to understand the depth of architecture, the influence of Hinduism and the seamless merging with the Cham culture.

Traditional Dance at My Son, Vietnam
This place, restored and resurrected by French scholars before and after the war can be viewed in different clusters. A and B form the largest of the temples in the complex and house a lot of shrines to worship Shiva, his consorts, Ganesha and more. The other smaller temples like C, D, E, F, G, H, K are still being restored or have been damaged beyond recognition. One can see a lot of bomb craters in their space.

Traditional Music at My Son, Vietnam
To enter the My Son sanctuary one needs to purchase a ticket that costs 100,000 VND or ~5 USD. This ticket allows you to explore the entire temple complex and see a complimentary dance of the Cham culture performed by the local artists living here. Days can be really warm and hence most tourists visit during the early morning or late afternoon hours. A complete visit, including the Cham dance program should take you 3 to 4 hours.

Traditional Apsara Dance at My Son, Vietnam
The sanctuary does not provide you with an audio guide, but you can hire an external guide to help you understand the history. If you are a fan of Hinduism or would like to see the remains of an ancient civilization, then you should visit My Son. After all, it is a remarkable architectural ensemble that developed over a period of ten centuries and presents a vivid picture of spiritual and political life in an important phase of the history of Southeast Asia.

Champa Kingdom Ruins at My Son, Vietnam
I would totally recommend it based on my recent visit here. The UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the temple sanctuary, the Apsara dance, the lovely countryside with paddy fields and the lush green experience makes this a must-see destination in Vietnam.



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