Malaysian traveller explores Vietnam's My Son to learn about ancient civilisation

The temples that form the Group B-C-D at the Cham Temple Complex. — Photos: TOOFAN MAJUMDER

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When choosing where to holiday, I like visiting archaeological ruins more than any other kind of destinations such as the beach or mountain.

I was transferred to Kuala Lumpur five years ago for an assignment and in the beginning phases of my time here I had visited Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia), Ayutthaya (Thailand) and Borobudur (Yogyakarta, Indonesia).

I have also visited the Bujang Valley in Kedah, Malaysia’s richest archaeological site. When Covid-19 started and there were restrictions on travel, I used my “free” time doing lots of research on which archaeological sites I could go next. And no other place fascinated me as much as the My Son sanctuary in Vietnam did. I decided that this was the first place I would go to once Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

However, I realised that there were also a few other places of interest around My Son, like Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang and Ba Na Hills so I took some time to plan my trip as I wanted to check out all those places too.

In September, I was finally able to visit My Son.

My Son sanctuary is located in central Vietnam in the province of Quang Nam, and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Cham Temple Complex, featuring impressive archaeological Hindu temple ruins from the 4th to 13th centuries, is found within the sanctuary.

When you visit the temple complex, you would have to walk through a forest to see all the ruins.When you visit the temple complex, you would have to walk through a forest to see all the ruins.

“My Son” in Vietnamese means “beautiful mountain”. The place was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence. Modern scholars believe that Champa was not a single kingdom but a group of Hindu kingdoms that existed in central and south Vietnam with their regional capitals in various places.

My Son is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in mainland South-East Asia. While the temples here may not be as big as those in the Angkor Archaeological Park, what it lacks in size it makes up in numbers. There are as many as 71 monuments that are standing today, divided into eight groups. Apart from that, there are also extensive buried archaeological sites, some of which are currently being excavated.

I had my “Indiana Jones moment” when I spotted the first temple en route to the complex, which is in the middle of the forest. The temple wall may not seem too impressive at first, but it is, in fact, still being renovated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who are working in partnership with the Vietnamese government. ASI is helping to preserve many other sites in and around My Son.

Right after that there is a welcome hall and if you go at the right time you can watch a wonderful Cham cultural performance, which I was told is performed by actual descendants of the Cham people of the Champa kingdom civilisations.

From the hall you can see the main group of the temple ruins, which would take you about five to 10 minutes to walk over to. This group of temples (known as “Group B-C-D”) is said to be the most impressive of all the ruins at My Son. The most important Cham temple, Bhadreshvara, is also located here.

The Bhadreshvara is said to be the most important temple in the complex.The Bhadreshvara is said to be the most important temple in the complex.

The storehouse has some impressive wall sculptures, which goes to show just how artistic the Cham sculptors were. There is a small museum nearby too, displaying some artefacts that were found in the area.

(However, if you want to see the best Cham sculptures, you may want to visit the Danang Museum Of Cham Sculpture instead.)

Next are the Group A temples. While less impressive than Group B-C-D, there is a Shiv Linga – a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva – whose pedestal has been registered as a national treasure of Vietnam due to its brilliant intricate stone work.

The pedestal of this Shiv Linga is registered as a national treasure of Vietnam.The pedestal of this Shiv Linga is registered as a national treasure of Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in Group G, you can see one slate with Cham inscriptions, said to tell the history of the Cham kingdom. There are many such slates found in and around My Son.

The Group E and Group F areas are where you will find the temples that were nearly destroyed by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. Back then, the North Vietnamese guerrilla fighters often used My Son as their hiding place. A few craters created by these bombs are now marked with placards.

Group H only has a single temple, which does not have much to highlight except one beautiful statue. I am not sure about its history, but it seems to me that the statue was taken away from the temple but later recovered and placed back in its original place.

It is usually very hot in central Vietnam and by the time you finish visiting all the ruins you may probably feel very tired but at the same time, amazed by all that you’ve seen. Fortunately, My Son sanctuary provides free shuttle services (the price is included in the entrance ticket to the site), where you are ferried to the main gate or parking lot, which, by then, is very much required!

The Champa Kingdom was indeed a remarkable civilisation and there are many stories to be told and learned. This place is definitely worth a visit, especially for those who are curious about ancient history.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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