My Son -- Champa Temple ComplexMarch 20 in Vietnam
About an hour outside of Hoi An is Vietnam’s most famous Champa Temple Complex — My Son. The complex consisted of a series of more than a dozen temples sites, each of which had approximately a dozen buildings. The temples were built from the 4th century to the 14th century AD, and were used for Hindu worship, although the primary God worshiped in the complex was Shiva (locally referred to as Bhadreshvara). The site was considered holy due to the geography — a valley, surrounded by mountains, with a river running through it. After the slaughter of the Cham, the complex fell into disuse, and was essentially lost for five hundred years. It was “re-discovered” in 1904 by a French archeologist, named M.C. Paris. Messr. Paris knew that the French archeologist Henri Parmentier was working on similar ruins in Cambodia (Angkor Wat) and invited him to see the complex.
From 1937 to 1943, archeological work on the My Song complex was conducted. The first step involved removing the vegetation that had covered the various temples in the complex. Each “site” had multiple structures, built over hundreds of years. The sites were given letter designations from A through N. The finds were remarkable. The archeologists determined that each “temple” actually included buildings, including a building in which the monks conducted religious blessings, and one in which offerings were a stored. Sculptures sat within and around the temples, and many items were moved to museums. Then, when the war with France broke out, the excavations were stopped. Later, during the American/Vietnam war, the site was used by the Viet Cong for hiding. In a single week in August 1969, the Americans carpet bombed the site and almost every structure was destroyed, leaving only the temples at site C standing. Even now, as you walk through the site, you see enormous craters which were created when the bombs dropped.
We had left the hotel at 7:30, so that we could beat the crowds to the site, and also avoid the heat. (It turned out perfectly, as it also allowed us to see the site before a huge rain storm blew in.). We were in the third vehicle to arrive to the site, and got to walk through the jungle alone. It was so gorgeous. We arrived at site C, where the only intact temples are, with a few other families. Wandering through the complex without hordes of other people was fantastic. We learned lots about the religious practices of the Cham, and the uses of each building. But, the most interesting thing that we learned was about the Cham view of perfection. According to the Cham, no human being can ever achieve perfection. Only the Gods can achieve perfection. So, in every religious structure, there is some purposeful imperfection included. The type of imperfection varies wildly, and it takes close examination to see the imperfections. In one temple, the imperfection was that a column was left incomplete. But my favorite “imperfection” was in a statute of Shiva. In the statute, Shiva raises her hands together, and places her thumbs together. When you first look at the statute, it looks right. But, when you look again and try to place your hands in the same way, you realize that the hands have been reversed. (Quy had Arie try to replicate the pose, and it was only when he did so that we saw the imperfection.). Subtle, but a beautiful “philosophy.”Read more