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Vietnam: The Cham People and their Towers

October 30, 2010

Descending the Cairo Side a novel of the traveling life

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All photos by Kit and Diana Herring

I was fascinated to learn about the Cham, or Champa people of Vietnam.  Some theories state the ethnic group originally arose in Borneo and immigrated to Southeast Asia.  In the long run this may have not been such a wise move. They were victims of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia and are ill-treated elsewhere in the region.

Originally adopting a form of Hinduism, their ancestors my have been responsible for the construction of Anghor Wat.  Today in Vietnam their towers still rise over countryside, an astonishing fact in a country that has suffered so much war.  They must have made tempting targets for the aggressors in the various conflicts.

1) A lonely Cham tower in mid-Vietnam

We visited one of the best-preserved Cham complexes, Po Nagar in Nha Trang.  Each tower here was built and dedicated to a different Hindu deity.  The towers and associated temples were constructed between the 7th and 12th centuries AD.

2) Diana standing at the bottom of a tower.  Another reminder of a Central American pyramid

Only four towers remain; the rest have become victims of war and the passage of time.  Certainly most  modern Vietnamese have little in common with the Hindu way of thinking.

3) Inside the complex

But the locals and tourists come to visit to see the wonders of a past civilization.  It’s cooler in here, too, than outside in the ravaging equatorial heat.

4) A Hindu god in relief

5) Diana looking around some columns

We found an interesting site in back of Po Nagar. What looked to be dressed and finely cut megalithic stonework, perhaps the ruins of a much older temple that had caused the Cham to site their own towers here.

6) The stones – they were on top of the hill and would have had been dragged up somehow

Po Nagar is a lovely place and one sees a bit more of the ancient past here than in most places in Vietnam, where the population does not think kindly of minority religions.

7) Playing tourist while risking heat stroke in front of the principal tower

8) Looking back to the top of the hill

The Cham of today in Vietnam are still Hindu but their cousins in Cambodia converted to a form of Islam in the 11th century.  A difficult spiritual path to choose either way in Southeast Asia.

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