My Son was once the spiritual heart
of the Kingdom of Champa that occupied what is now the central
area of Vietnam for over a thousand years.
of the Cham are unclear, but it appears that they were an
important element of the Indianisation of South East Asia
around the first and second centuries AD. An important part
of the culture of the various groups was the creation of
massive temples and monuments, the quintessence of which
was the amazing Angkor complex in Cambodia.
control of Vietnam was more or less contemporaneous with
the Cham Kingdom. They tolerated its presence and used it
as a source of income via tribute and, from time to time,
plunder. However, once the Vietnamese had driven their oppressors
back across the border, they turned their attentions southwards
and began a long war of attrition that culminated in the
demise of the kingdom and the assimilation of most of its
The My Son
Sanctuary complex of religious monuments originally comprised
of more than 70 structures of which 25 remain in varying
degrees of ruin. The Cham people erected monumental towers
on square or rectangular foundations. They comprised of
the base represented the world of humans
the tower body represented the world of spirits
the tower head (typically lotus shaped) represented the
realm between the two worlds. The structures were usually
built of baked bricks and sandstone.
builders of My Son derived their cultural and spiritual
influences almost exclusively from India in the form of
the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Shiva was the central
figure of worship – his images abound among what remains
of the Cham monuments.
techniques are less certain. The thin red bricks used in
their construction indicate a very high level of skill.
Various theories have been put forward to account for the
unerring accuracy of the brickwork. One suggests that they
were stuck together by some form of vegetable glue. Another
proposes that the towers were erected with the bricks in
a dried state and were fired in situ by piling wood against
the edifice to create an enormous outdoor ‘kiln’. For anyone
who has closely inspected the remarkable regularity of the
joint and bonding courses, both seem unlikely explanations.
the US forces believed that My Son was a Viet Cong field
headquarters (an assumption open to doubt). They therefore
designated the site a free-fire zone resulting in heavy
shelling and the destruction of many of the towers.
of decay has continued since, and what remains is in a poor
state of repair. The site’s designation as a UNESCO World
Heritage Area has reinvigorated interest in its conservation
and has already attracted significant resources to that
end, notably from Italy.
neglected appearance, My Son is worth a visit. It is in
an attractive valley, well away from any other buildings,
in the mists of a wooded area. It’s usually quiet, peaceful,
and very evocative. Even in their ruined state, the towers
are impressive, and the scale of the endeavour makes its
religious significance obvious.
If you visit
the site, remember to take sunscreen because the valley
is a sun trap, and if you see anyone climbing on the remains
of the towers to take photographs, please remind them of
their responsibility to help in its conservation!