Between the 4th and 13th centuries a unique culture which owed its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism developed on the coast of contemporary Vietnam. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples located in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.
My Son is Hindu sanctuary of the Kingdom of Champa, located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Vietnam. My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river. The location gives the sites its strategic significance as it is also easily defensible.
From the 4th to the 14th century AD, the valley at Mỹ Sơn was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. Each king, after taking the throne, celebrated a holy purge ceremony, donated gifts and built temples, which explains why My Son is the only place where Cham art flourished without interruption over a period of ten centuries. Originally, this temple complex featured 70 structures, of which 25 survive. The Cham script is a descendent of the South Indian Brahmic Grantha script. Many Hindu stone temples of the Champa include both Sanskrit and Chamic stone carvings.
The temples in My Son were built into groups that basically followed the same model. Each group was comprised of a main sanctuary (kalan), surrounded by towers and auxiliary monuments. Kalan, which is a symbol of Meru Mountain — the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the center of the universe — is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Cham temples do not have windows, so they are very dark inside. Windows are only found on the towers. The predominant style of the architecture and sculptural decoration of the My Son temples derives directly from India.
Their technological sophistication is evidence of Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.
The Champa Kingdom began in AD 192 when the people of the Tuong Lam area rose up against their Chinese overlords and founded an independent state in the narrow strip of land along the coast of central Vietnam. The Cham came under the influence of the Hindu religion of the Indian sub-continent early in their development, though the exact date is not known. Under this influence many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva.
The first constructions date back to the 4th century under the reign of Bhadravarman for the worship of God Shiva-Bhadresvara. More than two centuries after Bhadravaman’s foundation, the temple was destroyed by fire. At the beginning of the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt.
Between 749 and 875 the Cau clan were in power, and for a time the capital was moved to Vivapura in the south of the territory. Nevertheless, My Son retained its religious importance, and resumed its paramountcy in the early 9th century during the reign of Naravarman I, who won many battles against the Chinese and Khmer armies.
In the later 10th century, most of the finest surviving architectural monuments were built there.
Most of the 11th century was a period of continuous warfare and My Son, along with other sacred sites in the Champa Kingdom, suffered grievously. It was Harivarman IV who brought peace to the kingdom. He had moved his capital to Do Ban towards the end of the century but he undertook the restoration of My Son. From 1190 to 1220 the Champa Kingdom was occupied by the Khmers.
From the 13th century the Champa Kingdom slowly declined and was absorbed by the growing power of Vietnam. In the later 15th century, Mỹ Sơn complex fell into disuse and was largely forgotten. It was rediscovered in 1898 by the Frenchman M. C. Paris.
During World War II, the First IndoChina War and, especially, during the Second IndoChina War, many tower temples were damaged. Later, the main tower was severely damaged by American bombers in 1969 during the Vietnam War. However, conservation work has been carried out and the remaining tower temples have been maintained and are well-preserved.