Champa: the other kingdom of Vietnam

12 February 2014: " Champa: the other kingdom of Vietnam By Anne Fort, Curator of Vietnam, Luristan and Steppes at the Cernuschi Museum.

The Champa was a confederation of Hindu states of culture, of Austronesian language close to Malay, located along the coast of the central zone of modern Vietnam between the IIe and XVIIthe centuries. Today reduced, the cham population is mainly found in Vietnam in the province of An Giang. One part is Muslim while the other has retained its Hindu roots
In the first millennium BCE, these people from Borneo settled in the deltas of the great rivers and the coastal plains of Vietnam where they coexisted with the Khmer-speaking people in the south and the vile in the north. Excellent navigators, the Cham traded with all the kingdoms of South East Asia and South China, by sea and river navigation, but also used land routes.
The name "Champa" was perhaps taken in reference to the city of Bengal bearing the same name and from which many sailors who came to trade on the coasts of Vietnam were from. The Cham could have used this term close to the way they originally called themselves.
The study of cham monuments dates back to the end of the 19th centurye with the works of Etienne Aymonier, Étienne-Edmond Lunet de Lajonquière and especially, from 1900, with those of Henri Parmentier and Jean-Yves Claeys. We also owe to Henri Parmentier the foundation of the Cham Museum of Da Nang.
The inscriptions constitute the principal historical sources sometimes supplemented by the Chinese chronicles and the Vietnamese annals. These inscriptions are engraved on sandstone stelae but also in brick or on metal objects. Although not fully deciphered, the inscriptions, sometimes bilingual (Sanskrit and Cham), provide dates referring to the Saka era (Indian era beginning in AD 78). In general, they refer to the foundation of Shaivite or Buddhist monuments or to donations made to these temples.
The five main regions of Champa are from north to south: Indrapura (site of Dông Duong), Amaravati with its capital Tra Kiêu, formerly Simhapura and the religious center of My Son, Vijaya (current province of Binh Dinh), Kauthara (current provinces of Khanh Hoa and Phu Yên) and Panduranga (current provinces of Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân). Champa has often been in conflict with its Khmer neighbors to the west or Vietnamese to the north, the latter continually extending their territory south until the complete annexation of Champa in 1822.
The prosperity of Champa was partly due to the fact that the Cham knew very early on how to cultivate a variety of rice resistant to the drought and the Chinese annals mention the fact that they made at least two crops of rice per year. On the other hand, the organization into a confederation of city-states, each of which draws its wealth from agriculture, fishing and forest resources, is based on a solid network of river, sea and land communications.



Champa Map

Stela inscribed in Sanskrit. Sandstone.
Sanctuary Tower B 6. My Son.
Dated 687. Cham Museum. Da Nang. © Thierry Ollivier

Linga and tank. Sandstone. 8th-10th century My Son

According to the times, certain city-states, with a surplus trade balance, could start a policy of domination over their neighbors and create a brilliant cultural pole that resulted in the building of temples and monasteries and the maintenance of a brilliant court. The most powerful city then imposed its style on the buildings and sculptures of the time and it is astonishing to note that despite a relative autonomy of these different cities, a religious ferment reinforced by a solid commercial network also made them interdependent and united in one consciousness national. Thus, on the artistic level, a certain geographical coherence is necessary in Champa, the variations of style obeying more to a chronological succession than to a phenomenon of regional schools which would remain to be demonstrated.
Hinduism imposed itself peacefully and, like Buddhism, it was transmitted from India by the Brahmans or monks who followed the merchants settling along the coast.
The cult of linga (a trained male member of the god Siva) has enjoyed a great favor at Champa and the main statue of the Shaivite temples is almost always a linga . This sculpture is presented with a square base (Brahma), a hexagonal or octagonal body (Visnu) and the upper part representing the male represents Siva. This cult was particularly well received by the Cham who already celebrated fertility and worshiped standing stones. The linga is always associated with a ablution tank (yoni) which features a stylized female gender. The officiant poured on the linga substances pleasant to the god (milk, yoghurt, honey, scented water, etc.) and these products flowing through the furrow practiced on the yoni watered the earth, which could only please a farming people.

Linga 2. Sandstone. Tenth century My Son

Kosa. Silver and gold.
8th century Guimet Museum

My Son. 1 group. © J. Berthelot Blanchet

A cham specificity is to offer the linga a precious case, kosato cover and protect it. These kosa are generally composed of a sheet of metal (gold or silver) and are adorned with a riveted Shiva head. After the erection of a linga in a temple, the gift of a kosa was considered the most precious offering.
The first buildings appear to be cobble-bed brick platforms with a thatched roof or tiles, supported by wooden columns as can still be seen in Bali.
The Cham mainly used brick for their constructions and only used sandstone for stelae and votive images or even for decorative architectural elements. The brick beds are laid without mortar but "glued" by a vegetable resin. The exterior decorations were carved directly into the brick walls, then covered with a protective coating and finally painted.


Po Klaung Garai. Late thirteenth century © Andre Lettau

Thap Cham Poshanu. Temple. 15th century Mui Ne

The large Buddhist complex of Dông Duong which was built by Indravarman II in his capital of Indrapura for Laksmindra Lokesvara does not present any major differences with the Shaivite temples: the main sanctuary, open to the east, is surrounded by a wall of square plan pierced by a majestic entrance (gopura). The square shrine-tower, preceded by a vestibule and a porch, rests on a high terrace. The false floors of the sanctuary tower are adorned with small miniature towers that have the same decor as the main building. This profile says in sikhara was developed in India to evoke Mount Meru, residence of the gods. In the enclosure are other buildings which housed the consort of the god and other related deities. A particularity of the Cham complexes is the South building, inside the enclosure, composed of two square rooms in a row, which may have served as a library or to prepare offerings. Recognizable by its ornamental second floor whose curved profile evokes taut ridge roofs covered with palm leaves or thatch, this South building is a transposition in masonry of the traditional wooden architecture of the Malayo-Polynesian world.
At the front of gopura there is a long rectangular assembly hall (mandapa). This room usually has walls pierced with windows.
The My Son complex originally had more than seventy monuments that unfortunately suffered a lot from the wars. This set, originally dedicated to the VIe century to the tutelary god of the Cham, Bhadresvara, was embellished by the various kings until IXe century, then, after a parenthesis due to the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism, the activity resumed at the beginning of the Xe until XIIe.
The oldest exhumed sculpture is a female divinity in sandstone of the Ve century. The pedestal of My Son E1 VIIe s. presents a style still very Indian as well by its decoration as by the sculptures, like the tympanum of My Son E1 appearing Visnu on the snake Ananta whose softened style does not present yet the facies cham.


Female divinity. Sandstone. Ve s. An My.
Cham Museum. Da Nang. © Thierry Ollivier

Male divinity. Sandstone.
Late 9th-10th century
Cham Museum. Da nang.
© Thierry Ollivier

Avalokitesvara. Bronze. 8th-9th century
Guimet Museum.
© Thierry Ollivier

From the IXe century, the faces present the Cham characteristics: eyebrows joining together to form a brace, flat nose and very full lips topped by a thick mustache as on the male deity of Dông Duong or the heads of Siva adorning the kosa. These elements make it possible to define Dông Duong's style.
The Avalokitesvara head of the Guimet Museum, in bronze, has the same characteristics as those of Siva. A makara (sandstone snake) from the Guimet Museum, a beneficial mythical animal associated with water, was to adorn the throne of the Buddha of Dong Duong Monastery. From his mouth comes a little deva (divinity) whose face and wealth of adornment are representative of the style. A big dvarapala (gate keeper) in sandstone from the Da Nang museum represented in a very dynamic attitude, also coming from Dông Duong is characteristic of the style. Its particularity is that it rides a buffalo which seems to spit out a small demon protecting itself with a shield (syncretism with the representation of Durga?).
The sculpture of the bust of the goddess Devi (recognizable by the crescent moon in her bun) sandstone, Huong Quê and dating from the Xe century, announces the style of Tra Kiêu, classical period of sculpture cham.
The style of Tra Kiêu is characterized by a vigorous treatment but simplified forms and a general softening with faces with less marked features than in the style of Dông Duong. The Atlantean sandstone lion of the Da Nang Museum shows a stylization of the mane typical of this style. The tympanum decorated with Visnu on the Ananta snake from Tra Kiêu has softened features and a more sober treatment of the ornament that contrasts with the threatening mouths of the Naga. The Nandin bull (Shiva mount) sandstone, from Tra Kiêu, has the same softness and simplicity of forms and decor.


Vishnu enthroned on the Ananta snake.
Tenth century Tra Kieu.
© Cham Museum. Da Nang

Shiva. Sandstone. 11th century
Thap Banh It.
Guimet Museum.
© Thierry Ollivier

Shiva dancing. Ear-drum. Sandstone.
Twelfth-thirteenth century. Thap Mam.
© Cham Da Nang Museum

Shiva. Sandstone. 14th-15th century.
Yang Mum.
Cham Museum. Da Nang.
© Thierry Ollivier

The style of Chanh Lô in XIe century, is particularly well illustrated by the sandstone Siva of Thap Banh It: a very great softness, the simplification of the adornment, the stylized treatment of the locks of the bun are combined with faded cham lines.
The style of Thap Mâm, XIethirteenthe centuries, is more decorative: the volumes are simplified but the very careful ornamentation testifies to the virtuosity of the sculptors. The Atlantean Garuda in sandstone from the Da nang museum is a good example, as is the gajasimha (elephant-lion). Thap Mâm's dancing sandstone Siva shows the evolution of its representation: simplified volumes treated in bas-relief, soft modeling and sobriety of the ornaments.
The style of Yang Mum, XIVefifteenthe centuries, is illustrated by a siva sitting in sandstone. The treatment is extremely decorative with a strong stylization.
From the XVIe century, the Cham will no longer produce sculpture in the round or bas-relief and decorate their stelae of stylized motifs almost abstract.


Lion trained atlante. Sandstone. Tenth century Tra Kieu.
Cham Museum. Da Nang

Garuda Atlante. Sandstone. XII-XIII century
Thap Mâm. Cham Museum. Da Nang

Gajasimha. Sandstone. Thap Mâm. Twelfth-thirteenth century.
Cham Museum. Da Nang


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