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Champa, their art and civilization in Central Viet Nam

August 19, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The art and civilization of Champa evokes astonishment and amazement. Champa, originally being a kind of Hindu kingdom along the narrow strip of land in present-day’s Central Vietnam from the winding Ngang Pass between Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces in the north to Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan in the south, is recognized by a string of brick towers called “kalan” built near a 1,000 km coastline of the South China Sea, mostly on top of small mountains. The Cham Museum in Da Nang explains it all.

The Cham civilization came into being as a result of a number of uprisings against Chinese domination in the year 192 and lasted until 1832, when under the Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang the last king of Champa had died and their country was destroyed. Shielded by the Truong Son mountain chain in the west, the “Austronesian” speaking Cham people lived between the “Mon-Khmer” speaking Vietnamese in the north (Red River Delta) and the “Khmer” speaking people in the south (Mekong Delta). In their long history, the Cham people developed wet-rice agriculture, fishing and sea-faring. A stimulating maritime trade made them rich and brought them in contact with China, Indonesia, India and the West. Jungle products were brought from ethnic communities of the Joerai, Ede and Raglai, from the western high plateaus down to the coast, such as eaglewood, frankincense, cinnamon, spices, rhino horn and elephant tusks.

Actually, some 250 Cham archaeological sites are known, but only 50 sites survived the ravages of time and the wars through the centuries. Having their own Indian-based script, Sanskrit inscriptions tell the names of kings and their achievements. The center of the Cham federation was in today’s Tra Kieu, south of the Pass of the Clouds, where the capital of Simhapura was located (Amaravati). Nearby is the religious site of My Son, which was in use since the 4th century onwards venerating the Hindu God Shiva. In the middle of the 7th century, Champa had already expanded far to the south, as evidenced by a rock-cut inscription in the region of Nha Trang (Kauthara). The Dong Duong Maha-Buddhist monastery complex south of My Son was built in the 8th to 9th centuries, when in Cambodia also the sites of Angkor began and an overland trading road connected both important empires.

The 10th century saw the coming of the Vietnamese after shaking of the domination of the Chinese and the Champa capital moved to the area of Qui Nhon (Vijaya). In 1069, the Cham lost the region from the Gate of Annam to the mountain pass of Lao Bao, while the capital moved even further south to Ninh Thuan (Panduranga). In 1293, there was an invasion of the Mongols but later they had to evacuate. There followed the exploits of Che Bong Nga, who in 1370 invaded the Vietnamese capital Thang Long. In 1386, the Cham King back in Vijaya lost the territory between the Lao Bao Pass and the Pass of Clouds in exchange for the hand of Princess Huyen Tran, the daughter of the Dai Viet King.

The final blow to Champa came in 1471, when the Vietnamese King Le Thanh Tong captured Vijaya and destroyed everything connected with the Cham and took 30,000 prisoners of war. At the tip of Cape Varella, a boundary stone marked the new southern frontier of the Dai Viet.

But the Vietnamese march to the south (“Nam tien”) didn’t stop there. Although there was a “new” Champa in Nha Trang (Kauthara) with the Po Nagar Sanctuary, venerating the goddess Uroja, the Cham King had been converted to Islam at the end of the 16th century and in 1653, Kauthara was lost, while the disintegration of Panduranga followed. When in 1771 the Tay Son uprising broke out, the Nguyen armies were fighting back and then were building up their empire from Hue (1802-1945). Panduranga was wiped out after the final uprisings in 1835 including hill tribe communities such as the “Austro-Asiatic” speaking Ma, Sre and Stieng. Today some 300,000 people still live on the high plateau of Central Viet Nam (Tay Nguyen), with some 80,000 Cham in Ninh Thuan (Phan Rang) and Binh Thuan (Phan Thiet). Some 15,000 Muslim Cham live in the Chau Doc region in the Mekong Delta and 150,000 have settled as migrants around the Tonle Sap in Cambodia since the 16th century.

After ITE HCMC 2017 on September 7-9, there will be post-show tours to the provinces of Binh Thuan and Phu Yen respectively, where the art of Champa is still living there to see.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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