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The Hindu understanding of the cosmos and the Hindu prescription for shaping civilisation according to the Eternal Way (of Sanatana Dharma) was as strong in Vietnam as in Cambodia and most of what we know today as South East Asia. Hinduism spread not by the sword as the Abrahamic belief systems that came later, but by words of wisdom, improved heath care and trade.

Champa, on the coast of Annam, was another Indianized state, about which more information is available. It constantly clashed with the nearby Chinese colonies established in Tonkin during the Han period, and hence Chinese historians frequently refer to Champa.

The name Champa is clearly Indian whether it was named after the capital of the Anga country in the lower Ganges Valley, or after the Chola capital of the same name. Situated on the main sea routes from India and Java to China, and at the foot of spice-bearing mountains, Champa soon attracted the attention of Indian traders, and played a significant role in spreading Indian culture in eastern Asia. Sri Mara was the first Hindu king of Champa, and established his dynasty about 200 over an extensive area, including Tonkin and part of northern Annam.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Kingdom of Champa in Vietnam, which flourished from the second to the 15th centuries, was strongly influenced by Hinduism. Hindu temples were constructed, Sanskrit was used as a sacred language, Indian art was idolized and Hindu Deities, especially Siva, were worshiped. In fact, Lord Siva was regarded as the founder and protector of the Champa dynasties. It first appeared around present-day Danang and later by 8th century spread south to what is now Nha Trang and Phan Rang. The Cham adopted Hinduism, employed Sanskrit as a sacred language and borrowed heavily from Indian art.

One of the most stunning sights in Hoi An area is My Son, Vietnam's most important Cham site. During the centuries when Tra Kieu (then known as Simhapura) served as the political capital of Champa. Dong Dong (then known as Indrapura) served as the Cham's religious centre. Recent excavations in Tra-Kieu, the most ancient capital of Champa, have revealed ample evidence of Indian influence in the form of Sivaite and Vaisnavite shrines and bas-reliefs.

The earliest inscriptions found in the region and possibly the whole of Southeast Asia, is the Vo-canh inscription written in a South Indian script and dating from the second or third century. Vo Canh inscription near Nha Trang, is the oldest evidence in the whole Indochina peninsula for the use of Sanskrit. It dates from the 3rd/4th centuries. All the evidence seems to point to a process of Indianization beginning on the southern shores and gradually spreading north-wards up to frontiers of the province near Chin. The most ancient bronze statue found in Champa is that of the Buddha of Dongduong which is one of the most beautiful specimens of Amaravati art; even a principality in that area was called Amaravati. Inscriptions of Kind Bhadravarman, both in Sanskrit and Cham, have been found; they belong to about 350 and are the earliest inscriptions found in Champa proper.

Champa was formed in AD 192, during the breakup of the Han dynasty of China. Although the territory was at first inhabited mainly by wild tribes involved in incessant struggles with the Chinese colonies in Tonkin, it gradually came under Indian cultural influence, evolving into a decentralized country composed of four small states, named after regions of India, Amaravati (Quang Nam), Vijaya (Binh Dinh), Kauthara (Nha Trang), and Panduranga (Phan Rang). The four states had a powerful fleet that was used for commerce and for piracy.

The Cham people, of Malayo-Polynesian stock and Indianized culture, were finally united under the rule of King Bhadravarman around 400AD. He was noted commander and scholar. He dedicated a temple to Shiva at Mison which was called Bhadresvarasvami and became the centre of royal worship in later centuries. It is said that King Bhadravarman abdicated the throne to spend his last days on the banks of the Ganges.

During this period, remarkable sculptures and original brick temples were created which are notable for their decoration and ornamentation. The doorways and pillars are adorned with an incredibly intricate stone foliation of leaves, buds and flowers, inset with medallions of anchorites and celestial dancers. These groups of temples, Mi-song, Po-nagar, and Dongduong, are very famous. In the days of their splendor the Chams were Shivaites, and Shiva, his Sakti, and his two sons, Ganesh and Skanda, were prominent amongst the gods worshipped.

Myson was the site of the most important Cham intellectual and religious centre, and also may have served as a burial place for Cham monarchs. My Son is considered to be Champa's counterpart to the grand cities of south-east Asia's other Indian-influenced civilsations: Agkor (Cambodia), Bagan (Myanmar), Aythaya (Thailand) and Borobudur (Java).

Myson was a centre for spirituality and worship during the reign of the Champa Kingdom. The My Son Sanctuary, which exemplifies the height of Cham architectural achievement, is a large complex of religious monuments originally comprised of more than 70 structures; the vestiges of 25 of these structures remain today. The builders of Myson were the nobility of the Champa Kingdom who derived their cultural and spiritual influences almost exclusively from India.

The Cham people worshiped the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, although Shiva was the central figure of worship for most people. Shiva was usually portrayed in one of two forms: as the figure of a man, and very often in his symbolic manifestation, the lingam, which was usually a stone embellished with incisions placed on a stone slab. The lingam represented both Shivaism and the divine authority Shiva bestowed upon the king. The Cham people erected monumental towers - the main component of Cham architectural design - to house the lingam. My Son was once a veritable forest of towers, many of which were destroyed by the ravages of time and war.

All of the Cham towers at Myson were built on square or rectangular foundations and were comprised of three parts; the tower base representing the world of humans, the tower body representing the world of spirits, and the tower head - usually built in the shape of a lotus - representing the realm between the two worlds. The structures were usually built of baked bricks and sandstone.

Most experts consider the main tower at My Son, dubbed A1 by archaeologists and researchers, a masterpiece of Cham architecture. Originally it spanned three storeys and reached a height of 24 metres. Inside, the walls were covered with reliefs; across from the entrance were relief's depicting a dancing Shiva, on the first storey images of dancing females, and on the upper storeys elephants and lions were depicted. The tower is surrounded by six smaller towers. Unfortunately, tower A1 was severely damaged by US bombs in 1969. Apart from the main tower devoted to Shiva, there are numerous smaller towers and temples dedicated to the worship of lesser gods. For more refer to the Vietnam war.

This unique site is now in a state of significant disrepair. The monuments are covered with vegetation, which has grown unimpeded for years. Relics that have not already been relocated or stolen are strewn about, and lie exposed to the elements.

(source: India and World Civilization By D. P. Singhal Pan Macmillan Limited. 1993. part II p. 120 - 130). (Note: Recently an Ancient statue of Lord Vishnu has been found in Russian town of the Volga region. For more refer to chapter on Suvarnabhumi).

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