The heavens started pouring down as soon as we set foot inside the My Son sanctuary as if to warn us to not enter the sacred complex. But then, clear skies were never really a part of our Vietnam trip. A strategically placed souvenir shop right inside the gate sold us transparent pvc raincoats since we had only a couple of umbrellas. I donned my Indiana Jones hat (a cap) under the umbrella and walked with excitement looking for the treasure I seek – history.
Forgotten and abandoned till its rediscovery in 1898, The My Son complex of Hindu temples stand as a remainder of the cultural contribution of the Cham Kingdom (Champapura in Sanskrit). The Chams, till the 15th century, predominantly followed Hinduism and My Son was the site of ceremonial activities of the then Cham Kingdom to take place. Today, the My Son complex is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site.
We took a group day tour of My Son from Hoi An city along with a guide. Battery powered vehicles took us swiftly from the gates to deep inside the sanctuary across lush green jungle and brooks where the various temple complexes were present. The monuments number 71 in all. The entire site is extremely clean and well maintained. The continuous drizzle only added to the beauty of the ruins amidst the surrounding jungle.
The temples, although ruins now, still stand majestic as a remainder of the glory in its heyday. Except for the few damages due to growth of vegetation and the carpet bombing by the US Air Force during the Vietnam war, the monuments are surprisingly sturdy and well built, which is evidence of the engineering advance of the Chams. At a time when concrete buildings struggle to last just over a hundred years with maintenance, these monuments have withstood for several centuries, deserted and uninhabited. The Chams used fired bricks to build these structures and stone pillars for support. The walls embossed with sandstone reliefs that depict scenes from Hindu Mythology, similar to the temples back home in India.
The guide explained about the deities worshipped in the different sites. It became evident from his descriptions and the architecture and carvings, that although various Hindu Gods such as Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Krishna and others, Shiva was the main deity worshipped. A number of temples have architecture symbolizing Mount Meru , the sacred mountain described as the centre of the universe in various Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts.
He also briefed that the earliest temple was built around 4th century CE dedicated to Lord Shiva and over the next few centuries, the other temples were built around this temple by different kings. Apparently, My Son was the seat of religious and administrative power of the Cham kingdom till the 15th century. My Son fell into disuse after the conquest of Central Vietnam by northern Viet Kingdom. The guide explained about different facts about Hinduism and the culture that were followed by the Chams as others listened to it with great interest. For us, it was all too familiar and we ignored the few errors in his description. However, he advised us not to venture too far due to a lot of bombs and mines from the Vietnam War are present in the area and haven’t detonated.
On the way back to the gate, I realized i had forgotten my umbrella back at the pickup point in the ruins. I took another zippy ride to the ruins in the electric vehicle and considered myself lucky to find the umbrella left where it was, considering that it was continuously drizzling. Turning around, I took one last look at this amazing place which holds a history of over 1600 years.
My Son is not only a delight for history buffs but also nature lovers. The ride through the forest in the open electric vehicles showcasing the natural beauty and the scenic view of the area is sure to mesmerize one and all. Learning about the history and heritage of the monuments left me with a lot of respect and awe for the place and its people. The forgotten ruins, that stood witness to a great kingdom, made me wonder as to what surprise lays in store next.