Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mỹ Sơn Cham Temple Complex, a fractured tour

Our one excursion from Hoi An was an early morning tour to  Mỹ Sơn  .  Mỹ Sơn   is an 4th century  to 14th century Hindu complex of temples in Central Vietnam.  Founded by the Champa, a empire that ruled central Vietnam and extended into Cambodia and Thailand, it lasted until the end of the 15th century when it was defeated by the Vietnamese.  The temples remained hidden in the jungles until "rediscovered" by the French in the late 19th century.  The temple complex was obliterated by US B52 carpet bombing in one week of 1969, and by US Marine sappers blowing up a remaining temple.  Restoration is currently being funded by India and Italy.  A good description of the Mỹ Sơn complex can be found in wikipedia

So we went to  Mỹ Sơn   leaving at 5am to avoid the oppressive heat of an August summer day.  The bus ride was approximately 1 hour in length.  At the entrance gate we had to pay our entry fee, and the police came out to count the number of people in the bus before allowing entry.


After we got off the bus, our guide told us to stick to the marked trail or we would get lost.  Since there was a lot of thick jungle, I took the warning at face value.  Only later when reading about Mỹ Sơn  did I discover the reason was unexploded 250lb, 500lb bombs, and land mines from various sources.  In this case "lost" meant more than lost.

Ongoing Restoration

Our Guide and the Linga
Our tour guide's mastery of the english language was limited, but his embellishment of certain features of Hindu temple architecture and features was not.  We received graphic descriptions of the Linga, and the Yoni, how they come together to create a Shiva Temple.  We were told the setting of the temple complex at the base of the mountains (the Linga) and the river valley (the yoni) were symbolic of Shiva.  He caressed the Linga, and told us he kept pictures of Linga in his bedroom to keep him to be strong and make his wife happy.  This went on for approximately 10 minutes with the gathered tourists either shocked, or suppressing laughter or both.  He told us a fractured story of the creation of Genesh.  Archaeologists, historians, religious scholars and psychologists should be aware of how their finely honed descriptions can be changed when heard from the mouths of travel guides.  It is much like reading subtitles of movies and comparing them to the original dialog.

We wandered around the ruins of the temples, carefully following the marked paths, viewed monoliths with writing our guide said were untranslatable, but were probably written in both Sanskrit and Cham.  When searching the web for information o Mỹ Sơn, I found the most useful information in Wikiopedia, and on the Global Heritage Fund website.  The Global Heritage Fund site has better and more useful pictures than I was able to take.

A temple in need of stabilization

Another temple needing restoration work

The best part of the tour was we left before the crafts shop opened.

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