The Cham, A Great But Little Known Culture From Vietnam; Part Two

by bria4123 on November 28, 2012


These warriors with helmets that look like inverted flowers are up to no good.


Many carvings of them energize the walls of the Bayon, a great temple at Angkor built about 50 years after Angkor Wat. Many scholars of the Khmers think that they were Cham soldiers. Between the construction of these 2 temples, they invaded and took over Angkor. King Jayavarman VII might have been dramatizing his victory over the Cham on his royal cult temple. It’s hard to imagine who else they would have been, except the NY Yankees.

So the Cham were seen as “The Other” by the 2 civs that bordered them, Angkor and Vietnam. Champa existed for well over 1,000 years, but it didn’t have the population to battle both. It fought them very hard and well, but it was doomed. People are only now discovering what a great culture it was. We’ll explore it more deeply here.

The Cham were Hindus for most of their history. They embraced Buddhism in the 10th and 11th centuries and made some great art for that faith. But the Hindu god Shiva was usually their most honored deity.

In the above shot from My Son, Shiva’s in one of his most popular poses, as Nataraja (the King of Dancers).

These folks groovin’ to the rhythms seem like more pleasant company than the stereotypes that Khmers held when they were crossing spears.

But Cham Hinduism had more depth than partying out. An early Cham king, Bhadravarman (5th century), identified himself with one of the gods that Shiva manifested as, Bhadreshvara.


Cham kings erected temples that housed Shiva lingas. These symbols embodied ideas of the great god’s power to create and destroy–as Nataraja, he creates and destroys the universe–don’t shimmy too close to him! The linga also resonated with Southeast Asians’ own ideas about the land’s power to generate life. So this easily replicated art form fused both cultures’ ideas of nature’s powers.

Khmer kings also worshiped Shiva with temples that housed lingas early in their history  (see The Bakong). But Khmers built temples with whopping size. Champa’s people kept theirs small and exquisitely proportioned and decorated (see yesterday’s post on Champa). The pic above is from the ruins of Temple B1 in My Son. It was built in the 11th century and bombed in the last century (humans wield the most destructive forces). Its single room with an altar in the middle is the most common Cham temple form–a huge contrast with Angkor Wat.

Many Cham sculptures also show a lot of humanity.

And many of their art works that depict nature also favor elegant and humanized forms over sensationalism, including the building decoration above which imitates foliage.

Champa imported a huge religion from a huge land–it used fusions of Shiva’s cosmic power with the king’s authority to unify itself. But it created forms to express this blend that were more down-to-earth and soft. I find it hard not to like these people.

But what made them create such appealing art? We’ll find out in the next post on the Cham.



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{ 1 comment }

shirish dave October 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

It is a pleasure that Shiva was worshiped world wide. He is a cosmic God as his body as cosmos, looks dancing when we think that soar systems are revolving in galaxy and all the galaxies are too revolving and going away from each other dancing. Shiva as the ultimate God remains unchanged and eternal but he in the Form of Fire God as Ishvara remains in five forms in the Cosmos as body.

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