|Completed||4th century AD|
|Official name||My Son Sanctuary|
|Criteria||Cultural: (ii), (iii)|
|Inscription||1999 (23rd session)|
|Area||142 ha (0.55 sq mi)|
|Buffer zone||920 ha (3.6 sq mi)|
Mỹ Sơn (Vietnamese pronunciation: [mǐˀ səːn]) is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in Quảng Nam province, central Vietnam, constructed between the 4th and the 14th century by the Kings of Champa, an Indianized kingdom of the Cham people. The temples are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva, known under various local names, the most important of which is Bhadreshvara.
Mỹ Sơn is located near the village of Duy Phú, in the administrative district of Duy Xuyên in Quảng Nam Province in Central Vietnam, 69 km southwest of Da Nang, and approximately 10 km from the historic Champa capital of Trà Kiệu. The temples are in a valley roughly two kilometres wide that is surrounded by two mountain ranges.
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. It was closely associated with the nearby Cham cities of Indrapura (Đồng Dương) and Simhapura (Trà Kiệu). At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as numerous stele bearing historically important inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham.
The Mỹ Sơn temple complex is regarded one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in Southeast Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, such as Borobudur of Java in Indonesia, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Bagan of Myanmar and Ayutthaya of Thailand. As of 1999, Mỹ Sơn has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. At its 23rd meeting, UNESCO accorded Mỹ Sơn this recognition pursuant to its criterion C (II), as an example of evolution and change in culture, and pursuant to its criterion C (III), as evidence of an Asian civilization which is now extinct.
The over 70 temples and tombs extant at Mỹ Sơn have been dated to the period between the 4th century and the 14th century AD. However, the inscriptions and other evidence indicate that earlier now defunct constructions probably were present from the 4th century. The complex may have been the religious and cultural centre of historical Champa, while the government was based in nearby Trà Kiệu or Đồng Dương.
Bhadravarman and Bhadreśvara
The earliest historical events documented by the evidence recovered at Mỹ Sơn relate to the era of King Bhadravarman I (literally "Blessed armour" but also meaning the Jasminum sambac flower; Vietnamese: Phạm Hồ Đạt), who ruled from 380 until 413, and who spent the latter part of his reign waging war against the population of Chinese-occupied northern Vietnam. At Mỹ Sơn, Bhadravarman built a hall containing a lingam to worship Shiva under the Sanskrit name Bhadreśvara "Blessed Lord", a composite created from the king's own name and the word īśvara "lord" commonly used to refer to Shiva.
King Bhadravarman caused a stele to be erected at Mỹ Sơn the inscription on which recorded his foundation. The stele indicates that the king dedicated the entire valley of Mỹ Sơn to Bhadreśvara. The text ends with a plea from Bhadravarman to his successors: "Out of compassion for me do not destroy what I have given.":29 Drawing upon the doctrines of saṃsāra and karma, he added, "If you destroy [my foundation], all your good deeds in your different births shall be mine, and all the bad deeds done by me shall be yours. If, on the contrary, you properly maintain the endowment, the merit shall belong to you alone." Bhadravarman's successors heard his plea, it seems, for Mỹ Sơn became the religious hub of Champa for many generations.
More than two centuries after Bhadravaman's foundation, the temple to Bhadresvara was destroyed by fire. In the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman (Phạm Phạn Chi in Vietnamese, Fan Che as transcribed from the Chinese), who reigned from 577 until 629, rebuilt the temple, reinstalled the god under the name Sambhu-Bhadresvara, and erected a stele to document the event.:326 The stele affirmed that Sambhu-Bhadresvara was the creator of the world and the destroyer of sin, and expressed the wish that he "cause happiness in the kingdom of Champa." The stele also applauded the king himself, claiming that he was "like a terrestrial sun illuminating the night" and that his glory rose "like the moon on an autumn evening."
Ironically, perhaps, Sambhuvarman's reign was marred by one of the most devastating invasions ever suffered by the country of Champa. In 605 AD, the Chinese general Liu Fang led an army southwards from the area of what is now northern Vietnam, defeated the elephant-riders of Sambhuvarman, and sacked the Cham capital, making off with an enormous booty that included over one thousand Buddhist books as well as the gold tablets commemorating the reigns of the previous eighteen kings. Heading back north with their heist, the Chinese invaders were struck by an epidemic that felled a large number of them, including Liu Fang. Sambhuvarman, for his part, returned home to his kingdom, began the process of rebuilding, and made sure to send regular shipments of tribute to the Chinese court, in order through appeasement to prevent a recurrence of the recent disaster.
French scholars investigating Mỹ Sơn at the beginning of the 20th century identified a then still existent edifice distinguished for "its majestic proportions, the antiquity of its style, and the richness of its decoration" as the temple of Sambhu-Bhadresvara constructed by King Sambhuvarman. The edifice, which is known to scholars as "A1", was practically destroyed by US aerial bombing in the Vietnam War and is now little more than a formless pile of bricks.
King Prakasadharma (Po Kia Pho Pa Mo, as transcribed from the Chinese) ruled Champa from 653 AD to approximately 687. Upon ascending to the throne, he also assumed the name Vikrantavarman.:326 During his reign, he expanded the borders of Champa toward the South and sent ambassadors and tribute (including tame elephants) to China. Inscriptions link him not only to Mỹ Sơn, but also to the nearby urban settlements of Trà Kiệu and Đồng Dương. He began the religious practice of donating "kosas" or decorated metallic sleeves to be placed over a lingam. Unusually for a king of Champa, he was devoted not only to Shiva, but also to Vishnu.
One of the most important steles to be found at Mỹ Sơn is that erected by Prakasadharma in 657 AD. The purpose of the stele was to commemorate the king's establishment of a god identified as the ruler of the world, i.e. Shiva, with a view to overcoming the seeds of karma that lead to rebirth. The stele is important because it sets forth the king's ancestry and is of great help in reconstructing the sequence of Champa's rulers. Among his ancestors, notably, the king claimed a Cambodian king named Isanavarman I. And like the Cambodian kings, he traced his ancestry to the legendary couple of the brahman Kaundinya and the nāga-princess Soma.
Subsequent kings renovated the older temples and constructed additional ones. For many centuries, the building of temples and shrines of varying sizes continued, and Mỹ Sơn served as the religious and cultural center of the Cham civilization in central Vietnam, as well as the burial place of kings and religious leaders.:71,123,125,154–155,164–165
Most of the extant temples at Mỹ Sơn, such as the Isanabhadresvara, were built in the 10th century AD.:125 The inscriptions from this period have not survived, except in fragmentary form. At the beginning of the 10th century, the Cham center of power was at Đồng Dương, not far from Mỹ Sơn. By the end of the century, it had been displaced southward to Bình Định Province on account of military setbacks in wars with the Viet. However, Cham kings continued periodically to renovate the temples at Mỹ Sơn and even to build new foundations. The latest significant Cham record at Mỹ Sơn is a pillar inscription of King Jaya Indravarman V dated 1243 AD. By the early 15th century, the Cham had lost their northernmost lands, including the area of Mỹ Sơn, to the Viet.
Following the conquest of central Vietnam by Vietnamese emperor Le Thanh Tong which reduced the status of Champa kingdoms to autonomous subordinate regions and the decline and eventual fall of Champa, the Mỹ Sơn complex fell into disuse and was largely forgotten. Vietnamese people settled and built villages, towns, cities on conquered Cham lands. It was rediscovered in 1898 by the Frenchman M. C. Paris. A year later, members of the scholarly society called École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) began to study the inscriptions, architecture, and art of Mỹ Sơn. In 1904, they published their initial findings in the journal of the society called Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême Orient (BEFEO). Henri Parmentier gave a description of the ruins at Mỹ Sơn, and M. L. Finot published the inscriptions that had been found there.
In 1937, French scholars began to restore the temples at Mỹ Sơn. In 1937 and 1938, the main temple known as "A1" and the smaller temples surrounding it were restored. Other major temples were restored between 1939 and 1943. However, many historical buildings were destroyed during the Vietnam War. The area was part of a People's Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong base area and consequently United States aircraft bombed the region in August 1969. The surrounding area is still rendered dangerous through the presence of unexploded land mines.
The majority of the temple sites in the centre of the complex have survived to this day. However, worries persist regarding the structural soundness of the remaining temples, some of which are vulnerable to collapse. Although many statues have been removed to France or to historical museums in Vietnam, such as the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang, others can be viewed in a temporary museum that has been set up on site in two of the temples, with the funding of benefactors from Germany and Poland.
From 2002 to 2004, the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam allotted around US$440,000 to maintain the site. A draft plan of UNESCO was funded by the Government of Italy and sponsors from Japan to prevent further degradation. These efforts are also funded by the World Monuments Fund.
Archeology and architecture
Types of buildings
All of the remaining buildings at Mỹ Sơn are believed to be religious buildings. They are of the following types:
- A kalan is a brick sanctuary, typically in the form of a tower, used to house a deity.
- A mandapa is an entry hallway contiguous with a sanctuary.
- A kosagrha or "fire-house" is a construction, typically with a saddle-shaped roof, used to house the valuables belonging to the deity or to cook for the deity.
- A gopura is a gate-tower leading into a walled temple complex.
System for the identification of buildings
When he began his studies of Mỹ Sơn in 1899, Henri Parmentier found the remnants of 71 temples. He classified them into 14 groups, including 10 principal groups each consisting of multiple temples. For purposes of identification, he assigned a letter to each of these principal groups: A, A', B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K. Within each group, he assigned numbers to the edifices comprising it. Thus "My Son E1" refers to the edifice at My Son belonging to group "E" that has been assigned the number "1."
Art historians have classified the architectural and artistic legacy of Champa into seven artistic styles or phases of development. Six of the styles are represented at Mỹ Sơn, and two are believed to have originated from there. They are known as the Mỹ Sơn E1 Style and the Mỹ Sơn A1 Style. In particular the temple known as "A1" is often referred to as the architectural masterpiece of the Cham. The six styles of Cham architecture represented at Mỹ Sơn are the following:
- The style of Mỹ Sơn E1 and F1 dates to the 8th century AD. The temple known as "E1" is now ruined. The style which it established is represented today by two works of art that formerly belonged to the temple but today are housed in the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang: a pedestal and a tympanum.
- The style exemplified by My Son A2, C7 and F3 is similar to the style of Hòa Lai from the turn of the 9th century.
- The Đồng Dương style of the late 9th century is reflected in Mỹ Sơn A10, A11-13, B4, and B12. This style is named after the Vietnamese town that occupies the site of the 9th century city and Buddhist monastery of Indrapura. The archeological site of the monastery has been largely destroyed; French scholars of the early 20th century were able to create diagrams of its layout and the disposition of its buildings. Numerous striking works of sculpture belonging to this style survive in Vietnamese museums.
- The Mỹ Sơn A1 style of the 10th century is exemplified by Mỹ Sơn B5, B6, B7, B9, C1, C2, C5, D1, D2, and D4. It is the most heavily represented style at My Son, and is known for its elegance and grace. The style's namesake and most important architectural exemplar, the once magnificent tower known as "A1," is largely ruined. It is a mound of earth, surrounded by rubble and the outline of a wall, at the center of which stands a whitish pedestal. A scale model of the former temple created by Japanese researchers as well as a schematic frontal view are exhibited in the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang. The most striking of the remaining buildings belonging to the style may be the storehouse B5, which exemplifies the saddle-shaped roof peculiar to Cham artchitecture. The My Son A1 style is sometimes also known as the Tra Kieu Style, after the nearby town of Trà Kiệu which may be the site of the historical Cham city of Simhapura. Many architectural ornaments from this style survive and are displayed in the Museum of Cham Sculpture.
- A transitional style of the early 11th century to the middle of the 12th century is exhibited in Mỹ Sơn E4, F2, and the K group of sites.
- The style of Bình Định that prevailed in Cham architecture from the end of the 11th century, when the center of the Cham polity was displaced southward from the area around My Son to Vijaya in Bình Định Province, to the start of the 14th is represented by Mỹ Sơn B1 and groups G and H.
Most of the temples at Mỹ Sơn were made of red brick, and only one (the temple labelled "B1") was made of stone. Even the decorative carvings on the Cham temples were cut directly onto the bricks themselves, rather than onto sandstone slabs inserted into brick walls as is observable for example in the 9th century Cambodian temple of Bakong.
To this day, the construction techniques used by the Cham builders are not completely understood. Issues that have not been completely resolved include issues about the firing of the bricks, the mortar between the bricks, and decorative carvings found on the bricks.
- At what point in the building process were the bricks hardened by fire? Were the bricks hardened first, and then arranged in order to build the structures, or were the structures built out of partially hardened bricks, after which the entire structures were heated by fire to finish the hardening of the bricks? The hypothesis that the entire structures were reheated following assembly is supported by evidence that the mortar between the bricks was at some point subjected to high temperatures. The contrary hypothesis is supported by the observation that the structures bear no signs of scarring from large intense fires such as would be needed in order to reheat them as whole.
- How were the bricks stuck together? One hypothesis is that the builders at Mỹ Sơn developed a way to glue bricks together using tree resin native to central Vietnam. Another hypothesis is that the builders used a sticky mortar made from the same clay as the bricks themselves. The latter hypothesis is supported by chemical tests that have found no trace of any organic substance between the bricks, but instead have found mineral substances similar to those present in the core of the bricks. Today the mortar that once held the bricks together has largely decayed, and even a strong wind can knock loose bricks from the structures.
- At what point in the process were the decorative carvings made? Were the walls constructed and then carved, or were the bricks carved first and then assembled so as to create the walls? An examination of the carvings reveals no broken lines as would be expected if the bricks were carved first and then assembled; and as a result scholars have concluded that the Cham craftsmen made their carvings directly onto finished brick walls.
The people of Champa maintained written records in both Sanskrit and old Cham. They wrote on perishable materials, such as large leaves, and also created inscriptions in stone. They used scripts borrowed from India. None of the writings on perishable materials have survived. However, numerous stone inscriptions have been preserved, transcribed, and translated into modern languages.
Many of Champa's most important inscriptions are on steles, that is to say on slabs or pillars of stone erected precisely for the purpose of hosting inscriptions. Scholars have found approximately 32 steles at Mỹ Sơn, dated between the 5th and the 12th century AD.
The subject-matter of Cham inscriptions is mostly political and religious. They are written from the perspective of kings or very high potentates seeking to affirm their legitimacy and their relationship to the divine. Many of the inscriptions document a gift to a god, such as a gift of land, of people, or of treasure, or a foundation dedicated to a god, such as the foundation of a temple, an altar, or a pedestal. The inscriptions also provide us with important information such as the name of the country (typically Campadesa in the Sanskrit inscriptions, nagara Campa in the Cham inscriptions), and the names of some of its most important cities: Simhapura ("Lion City"), Virapura ("Knight City"), Rajapura ("King City"), Vijaya ("District"). Finally, a number of the inscriptions allude to or describe interesting historical events, such as the ongoing wars between Champa and Cambodia in the 12th century.
Recent introductory works
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics. Hanoi: Thế Giới Publishers, 2005. Ngô's recent introductory work summarizes the results of previous scholarship, though is somewhat dated now. English translations of several inscriptions are found at the end.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, Champa: Ancient Towers: Reality and Legend. Hanoi: Thế Giới Publishers, 2006. This is Ngô's introduction to those vestiges of Cham architecture found in places other than Mỹ Sơn.
- Tran Ky Phuong, Vestiges of Champa Civilization. Hanoi, Thế Giới Publishers, 2008.
Works of classical scholarship
- Georges Maspero, Le royaume de Champa. Paris: Van Ouest, 1928. Maspero's work is the most extensive reconstruction of the history of Champa, based not only on the testimony Cham inscriptions and other archeological data, but also on that of contemporaneous Chinese and Vietnamese texts. It has been translated into English by Walter E.J. Tips under the title, The Champa Kingdom: The History of an Extinct Vietnamese Culture. Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2002.
- M. Henri Parmentier, "Les Monuments du Cirque de Mi-Son," in BEFEO 4 (1904), pp. 805–896. Available online at BEFEO's website. (See below, under External Links.) This article (in French) is Parmentier's detailed scholarly description of My Son a few years after its rediscovery at the end of the 19th century.
- M.L. Finot, "Notes d'épigraphie: XI. Les inscriptions de Mi-Son," in BEFEO 4 (1904), pp. 897–977. Available online at BEFEO's website. This article (also in French) is Finot's detailed discussion, transcription and translation (into French) of the inscriptions associated with Mỹ Sơn.
- "KINGDOM OF CHAMPA". Archived from the original on 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
- Andrew David Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese Champa and the Archaeology of Mỹ Sơn 2009
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.3-4.
- "My Son, Vietnam". Global Heritage Fund. 2010. Archived from the original on 2011-02-03.
- My Son Sanctuary - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
- Georges Maspero, The Champa Kingdom, p.29.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.56.
- Maspero, G., 2002, The Champa Kingdom, Bangkok: White Lotus Co., Ltd., ISBN 9747534991
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.192-193.
- Higham, C., 2014, Early Mainland Southeast Asia, Bangkok: River Books Co., Ltd., ISBN 9786167339443
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.14,196.
- Georges Maspero, The Champa Kingdom, p.44.
- Georges Maspero, The Champa Kingdom, p.43.
- M.L. Finot, "Les inscriptions de Mi-Son," p.910.
- Georges Maspero, The Champa Kingdom, p.45.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.66-70.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.197-203.
- Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella (ed.). The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.71.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.170-171.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.4-5.
- Henri Parmentier, "Les monuments du Cirque de Mi-Son"; M.L. Finot, "Les inscriptions de Mi-Son."
- Tran Ky Phuong, Vestiges of Champa Civilization.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.5.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.5-6.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.9.
- M. L. Finot, "Les inscriptions de Mi-Son," p.915.
- M.L. Finot, "Les inscriptions de Mi-Son," p.912.
-  Myson map Index
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.29-30.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.27-29.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.30-31.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, pp.182-185.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.182.
- Ngô Văn Doanh, My Son Relics, p.185-187.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to My Son.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for My Son.|
- Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 1901–1936. Now online at gallica.bnf.fr, this journal documents cutting-edge early 20th-century French scholarship on My Son and research on other topics of Southeast Asian studies.
- Explore My Son with Google Earth on Global Heritage Network
- UNESCO decree
- UNESCO page on My Son