Stone Arts of Champa

Saturday, November 17, 2012

This is one particular place in Da Nang city that could be worth a visit. Either you are a sculpture lover, a wondering history enthusiast, or just a plain tourist who has nowhere else to go, this place is a must as it stores thousands of stone sculptures originating from the old Champa Kingdom in Vietnam. In fact, this is where one should start if he's after the "what-where-how-when" of the culture of Cham civilization. The place that I'm talking about is actually a museum, the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture to be exact or Bao Tang Dieu Khac Cham Da Nang in local language.

It is well located in the heart of Da Nang, almost facing the famous Han River. Getting there isn't at all the hardest thing. Since my group and I were coming from Tran Phu Street, we immediately saw the pale yellow building at one corner of a big roundabout at the intersection of Tran Phu and Truong Nu Vuong. The main entrance really doesn't look so welcoming, though. It was slightly narrow and has no clear signage. I didn't know that was actually the main entrance before we barged in.

A word of warning: Don't let the outside fools you.

After had our bikes all parked 'properly' at one corner of the museum compound, we walked towards the ticket booth. I didn't see any proper parking space within the area though. Maybe it's located on the other side of the building and if it so, there is a big possibility there is another entrance somewhere else. Anyway, this is the nearest entrance we found closer to the ticket counter. Yes, it wasn't free but at VND30,000 (about RM5) per person, it was reasonably cheap for a museum located in a city. Remember we paid twice the price to enter My Son sanctuary in the countryside the day earlier, not including the return trip fare? Whatever the price like, it worth every dong (I mean the currency) as it served a purpose. Our visit to Cham Sculpture museum was actually a continuation of what we saw in My Son and most of the relics that were found in the Cham's holy valley were transported here for public display.

However, not all came from My Son alone. There are stone works from all over Champa Kingdom in Vietnam such as from Tra Kieu, Quang Tri, and Thap Mam.

Another warning: The museum is all about sculptures. No more no less. Strictly not for sculpture-phobias.

A decent looking museum building has a long history back to the early 20th century. It all started when a French resident of Quang Nam called Charles Lemire, during his expeditions, discovered early traces of ancient monuments at numerous sites in central Vietnam. Most of the monuments were dated back to as early as 7th century AD where within this particular period Cham civilization was at its height. This led to another Frenchman, an architect cum archeologist who then founded the museum in year 1919. Henri Parmentier, a well known name in archaelogy and discoveries of ancient civilizations in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia (ex-Kampuchea). Along its way to the 21st century, it has undergone several phases of upgrades and extensions in order to house a growing number of collections. Today, it is home to the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world.

Not really a warning: French were the longest colonial power had ever conquered IndoChina.

History aside, let's look what were inside. Although initially we walked in group when we set foot into the museum but soon after we split up as each of us had different level of appreciations towards each of the items put on display.

The first exhibition room that I entered were full of ancient mythical characters connected in some ways to Hinduism such as the Garuda, dragon, gajasimha (elephant-like creature), and Nandin the holy bull. There are also impressions of Hindu gods and deities which were made into sculptures and most probably became objects of worship by the ancient Chams during that period of time.

However, there was also a period where Buddhism was adopted by Champa people, as I could see a tall, bronze statue of Bodhisattva standing in the middle of another exhibition area further inside the museum's interior. At one section inside one of the exhibition rooms, there was a booth selling some books and souvenirs. I stopped briefly but ended up buying nothing.

I thought I've reached the end of the tour but there were more on the first floor. I climbed up the stairs and reached the top floor of the building. No sculptures at all. Only some items and instruments used in Cham people's everyday living. Nothing that really caught my eyes except for a red wooden palanquin which I believed belonged to a royal family.

There were a little more to see but since I've got a limited time and in consideration of the rest of the party who could be waiting for me somwehere, I left the exhibition room through a back door which leads to a mini store selling beverages and ice-cream. Tempting but not that day. I was still half-full after a quick lunch near Han River an hour or so before. I met the others on our way out of Cham Sculpture Museum, where art of stone was blended into religion and culture of ancient Champa in Vietnam.

Filed Under: South East Asia


SenIndiaSen said:

Really Nice Article..

I wonder whether Champa have Dravidian Architechture ?

We read in History Tamil King Cholas had their travel upto Vietnam in East and Indonesia in the South East..


TravelistaMalaysiaTravelista said:

Sen: Champa was mostly based on Vijaya and Dong Duong styles of architectures. Dravidian can also be seen in SE Asia in Khmer kingdom, now Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of them. Another similar structure is in Indonesia, the Borobudur.

JackyVietnamJacky said:

THe palanquin is vietnamese, not CHam.ALso Tamil king Cholas or whatever used to travel to old kingdom CHampa, NOT VIETNAM. CHAM people's territories used to cover  from Quang Binh province (the central region of modern vietnam) to Ninh Thuan province.Moreover, there is no so called Dong DUong style since Vietnam is only country belong to SinoSphere with Chinese influences.

TravelistaMalaysiaTravelista said:

Jacky: thanks for correcting some of the facts written in the post (the palanquin) and of Mr Sen's King Cholas question. However, Don Duong style refers to the art and architectures found in Quang Nam province where My Son and Hoi An are located. Also, Sinosphere does include Japan and Korea too. In fact, Vietnam was no longer so Chinese-influenced in terms writing with the adoption of Quốc ngữ.

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