Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The absolute wonders of Cham Culture

This was an unexpected surprise, as we were looking for things to do in Nha Trang, aside from the beach since we had the entire day unplanned.

In the picture to the left, worshipers are getting ready to enter one of the temples, with their offerings for the Gods. Before entering, there is a receptacle which holds burning incense. I am wearing a light lavender dress, and I am to the right of the entrance, as I decided to join the faithful inside.

You are bound to hear about the Cham while in Vietnam. They are an ancient civilization that had its influences mainly in Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Cambodia. Their domain was called Champa, and their architecture and art style is unmistakable. Though we did not see My Son, it is reported that the finest examples of their architecture is to be found there. The Cham were influenced by the Khmer, who, in turn, were influenced by India’s Buddhism, so that one can easily make the connection between Angkor Wat and the buildings found in My Son and Nha Trang. The Cham ruled Vietnam for 10 centuries.

Absolutely amazing was our cab driver who did not know the Po Nagar Cham Towers. Initially, he stopped at a restaurant bearing that name. Add heat to this frustration and you get the meaning of potboiler. 

This is the Xom Bong Bridge you will cross to get to the Towers

Essentially, you need to cross the Cai River via the Xom Bong Bridge, and then you will have arrived. Once again, you are at the bottom of a hill looking up, and don’t be surprised if your jaw drops a few inches as you do. But first, you must buy your ticket (VDN5000), as all good tourists must. If you come here to worship, then it’s free.

There are carvings of Brahma, Shiva, and other symbols of Hindu religions

The first pillars you will see will be in two rows under the main tower. At one time, they enclosed a meditation hall. The burnt orange color of the brick and terracotta monuments are very distinctive, and you will recognize many of the elements of Hinduism sculpted into the towers, such as the Brahma with his four arms and four faces and his wife Saravasti. 

Shiva, with the third eye in his forehead, has many wives, and Vishnu (a sculpture of this god is found on the northernmost tower, with Sanskrit writings on the sides of the entrance arch), whose wife is the goddess of beauty, holds an object in each of his four arms. The mythical Garuda is also present and was prominent during our travel to Bali’s temples.

Inside the temple is a veritable feast of offerings, things that glitter and shine, strong Hindu colors, especially reds, fuchsias and marigolds. Bows of fruit are everywhere and the smell of incense is intoxicating. 

As you scale a circular stone stairway, the splendor of the towers comes into view. They are dedicated to the Hindu goddess Po Nagar (don’t pronounce the "r," because no one will understand you). Only four towers remain of the original seven, and we had an opportunity to enter one of them along with the worshippers; the Vietnamese are not really Buddhist, but observe a combination of three different principles, including Taoism and Confucianism. 

a woman prays
an offering rests in a pink hat: dragon fruit, a rose, and
 a apple protected by netting

It was fascinating to watch as one woman on her knees was rubbing the statues knees and praying. Incense joss sticks are lit and placed in one of the outer urns, and you must leave your shoes at the entrance. The dark interior corridor leads to the main room, where the likeness of a gold Buddha sits in lotus pose. Everyone worships differently and prays for different phenomena. There are magnificent views of the river.

Even nature has sculpted its trees a little differently here at the Po Nagar Towers

Bougainvillea flower everywhere