The Kingdom of Champa was located in mainland Southeast Asia, and occupies the area of southern Vietnam. Same as other early Southeast Asian cultures, the dynasty of Champa is not very well-known in modern days. 

With its golden economical era, this kingdom was an important regional power. The Champa kingdom’s  economy was largely based on maritime trade. Additionally, it was due to these trade connections that the Kingdom of Champa came into contact with other civilizations, and was influenced by their cultures and customs with time.

The world almost has forgotten the Champa or Cham Dynasty and the Cham people with the flow of time. The remnants of the Champa dynasty which endured in the region from the 7th century well into the 19th. Yet they are 60,000 plus strong, and they have kept their traditions and rituals alive for centuries, far from India’s shores.

The famous cities of Champa dynasty Indrapura, Simhapura, Amaravati, Vijaya and Panduranga. Indrapura was the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Champa from 875 CE, for several decades, under the reign of King Indravarman I (877-890) and some of his followers belonging to the 6th dynasty in Dong Duong. The word Indrapura means “City of Indra” in Sanskrit, Indra being the Hindu God of Storm and War, and King of the Gods as mentioned in the Rig Veda.

The site is near the present-day village of Đông Dương, not far from the modern city of Da Nang, Vietnam. Unlike his predecessors, King Indravarman II was a Mahayana Buddhist, so he built a great Buddhist temple, which has been destroyed by Vietnam War bombings. 

Due to negligence  and conservation efforts of Vietnamese Government  we are loosing it everyday and nowadays even by looting of bricks.
These forgotten Hindu people and their culture continue to flourish to this days. And when we speak of the Champa people, it is not through the paragraphs of history; it is the story of a living culture with roots going thousands of years back.

The Story of Po Nagar

According to Cham tradition, the founder of Champa was a goddess known as Po Nagar. Legend said that Po Nagar was abandoned as a baby in a forest near Nha Trang. Later baby Po Nagar was discovered by a woodcutter whilst he was returning home in the evening. The previously childless woodcutter and his wife raised baby Po Nagar as if she was their own daughter.

One day, Po Nagar, now a young lady, brought home a special piece of sandalwood, which she took good care of and did not allow anyone to touch.
A day came when she informed her foster parents that she was commanded to go to the Chinese Emperor’s court, where she would marry the crown prince. Although her foster parents initially forbade Po Nagar from undertaking this journey, they eventually relented.

Po Nagar went to the sea shore, threw her piece of sandalwood in the sea,as far as she could and disappeared. The piece of sandalwood was borne north wards by the currents, and reached the Chinese shore ,fisherman brought it immediately to the King’s palace, where it was given to the Emperor’s son

The prince wrapped the sandalwood in a silk cloth, and kept it near him in the palace. That night, the cloth started to move, and when the prince inspected it, Po Nagar emerged. The Chinese crown prince and Po Nagar were soon married and they lived happily for the first few weeks of their married life.

After few days passed in the couples life, One day, however, Po Nagar told her husband that she wanted to visit her foster parents, as she had promised to do so before leaving them. The prince, however, denied her request, as he did not want her to be away from him for even a single day. As there was nothing that Po Nagar could do to change her husband’s mind, she went to the sea shore, threw her sandalwood into the water, and vanished again.

The prince was furious, and equipped a fleet to sail south to look for Po Nagar. This angered the Jade Emperor, Ngoc Hoang, who turned the prince’s ship into stone as it entered the harbor of Nha Trang. As for Po Nagar, she remained in Vietnam doing good deeds for the rest of her life. When she died, she became revered by both the Cham and the Vietnamese as their patroness.

Hinduism in Vietnam

Hinduism in Vietnam is practised mainly by the ethnic Cham people. Balamon Cham is one of only two surviving non-Indic indigenous Hindu peoples in the world. Hinduism is not one of the 15 religions recognized by the Vietnamese Government.

The majority of Cham in Vietnam (also known as the Eastern Cham) are Hindu while their Cambodian counterparts are largely Muslim. Hindu Chams are called Balamon Cham or Balamon Hindu. They practice a form of Shaivite Brahmanism. Most of the Cham Hindus belong to the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste, but a considerable minority are Brahmins.[8] In Ninh Thuận Province, where most of the Cham in Vietnam reside, Cham Balamon (Hindu Cham) numbers 32,000; out of the 22 villages in Ninh Thuận, 15 are Hindu. Only four temples are still worshiped in nowadays: Po Inu Nugar, Po Rome, Po Klaung Girai and Po Dam. Binh Thuan Provinces.

Cham Hindus believe that when they die, the sacred bull Nandi comes to take their soul to the holy land of Indi. The main festival of Cham Hindus is the Kate festival, or Mbang Kate.It is celebrated for 3 days at the beginning of October.
As per the census of 2009, there are a total of 56,427 Cham Hindus in Vietnam. Out of this number, 40,695 are in Ninh Thuận, and another 15,094 are in Bình Thuận.  In Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces they form 22% and 4.8% of the population respectively. As of 2017, the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor estimated about 70,000 ethnic Cham Hindus in Vietnam.

Today the Cham are Vietnam’s only surviving Hindus, the nation once harbored some of the world’s most exquisite and vibrant Hindu cultures. The entire region of Southeast Asia, in fact, was home to numerous Hindu kingdoms. The many magnificent temples and artifacts, from Angkor Wat to Prambana, remain as potent testimonials to their splendor and accomplishments. These grand edifices still stand, though the societies around them no longer worship there or practice the lost traditions.

Champa was a formidable Hindu kingdom, renowned for its immense wealth and sophisticated culture. Its major port was Katti­gara. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Claudius Ptolemy wrote of Kattigara and outlined it on his map of the world. Modern scholarship has confirmed Kattigara as the forerunner of Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Minh City). Kattigara was, in fact, the main port at the mouth of the Mekong River, a name derived from Mae Nam Khong, the Mother Water Ganga.

Another early Champa king was Bhadravarman, who ruled from 349-361CE. His capital was the citadel of Simhapura or ‘Lion City,’ now called Tra Kieu. Badravarman built a number of temples, conquered his rivals, ruled well and in his final years abdicated his throne and spent his last days in India on the banks of the Ganges River.

Historic Champa was divided into five regions. Indrapura (present-day Dong Duong) served as the religious center of the kingdom; Amaravati is the present day Quong Nam province; Vijya is now Cha Ban; Kauthara is the modern Nha Trang; and Panduranga is known today simply as Phan. Panduranga was the last Cham territory to be conquered by the Sino-Vietnamese.

In ancient times the Champa built vast temple complexes that remain standing to this day. Primarily dedicated to Lord Siva, these structures honor Lord Siva as the founder and protector of the Champa Dynasty. The most important of these is known as My Son, a Hindu religious and literary center. Originally, this temple complex featured 70 structures, of which 25 survive. Sadly, the main tower was severely damaged by American bombers in 1969 during the Vietnam War.

The Sivalinga was the primary form worshiped at My Son, its aniconic form also representing the divine authority of the Siva-empowered king. Today the Cham people continue to worship this form of Lord Siva.

The site of the ancient Son Tien Tu pagoda, atop Mt. Ba, is still considered to be one of the most spiritual and sacred places in all of Vietnam. There, on a three-meter-high granite rock, is the ban chan tien, a footprint belonging to a God who “set his footstep on soft land at the dawn of humankind.” Located nearby is the recently opened Archaeology Museum of the Oc Eo Culture, designed to replicate a large Sivalingam and yoni. Its walls are lined with seated Ganesh murtis.

Many Hindu artifacts of significant historical value have been found in Vietnam. In 2001, 320 gold plaques were discovered. Decorated with various Hindu divinities, such as Garuda, Narasimha, Kurma and Durga, these plaques have been identified as the earliest known Hindu iconographic images ever discovered in Southeast Asia.
Starting in the 1940s, many valuable Oc Eo artifacts have been unearthed, featuring statues and reliefs of Buddha, Ganesh, Vishnu, Durga and Siva in both His human and in anionic Linga form.

Many Vietnamese Hindu artifacts have been misidentified as Buddhist icons. One such example is the Bien Hoa Vishnu, which bears all the markings of Vishnu and is identified as such by the Sanskrit inscriptions on its back. This sculpture, dated to 100 CE, was commissioned by Prince Vijaya Klaun Nauk Champa in gratitude and as a symbol of Vishnu’s blessings for his conquests over the Chenla. Lost for centuries and rediscovered 100 years ago, the Bien Hoa Vishnu has been worshiped ever since as Buddha by the local community.

In June, 2013, Vietnam’s prime minister officially identified 30 National Treasures of Integral Import to the Nation. Among these are several Hindu artifacts, including murtis of Vishnu and Surya from the Oc Eo culture and of Durga and Siva from the Champa. The 5th Quang Nam Heritage Festival, held June 21, 2013, featured a Vishnu sculpture dated 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. If this dating proves accurate, this sculpture would be the oldest known identifiable Hindu artifact in the world.

The Vo-Canh inscription, among the oldest known Sanskrit inscriptions discovered in the region, is one of many discovered in modern times. The Da Rang River, the largest river valley in central Vietnam, boasts several such Sanskrit inscriptions, including one at its mouth. These riverside inscriptions often lay hidden beneath the waterline, only to be revealed during the dry summer months.

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 various Cham communities use slightly modified versions of the script, although the Cham Muslims prefer to use the Arabic alphabet. During French colonial rule, both groups were forced to use the Latin script. Though the Cham script is still highly valued, and despite efforts to simplify the spelling, today few people are actually learning it.
While the Brahmic-based Cham language is still spoken by nearly 250,000 people, at one time Sanskrit was common for the educated. Interestingly, the spread of written Sanskrit in India seems to have nearly coincided with its use in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The evidence speaks of an ongoing vibrant Sanskrit-based Hindu civilization that was never handicapped by narrow ethnic or national limitations but rather was nearly global in scope.

Today the Cham are spread throughout East Asia. They are predominantly Sunni Muslim in Cambodia, Shia Islam in China, and Buddhist in Thailand. A small number of the Vietnamese Cham (also known as the Eastern Cham) follow Islam and a relative few follow Mahayana Buddhism, but the majority are Hindu. These are called the Balamon (Brahman) people. It is claimed that 70% of the Balamon people are classed as kshatriyas.

Having survived the loss of their kingdom, the colonial tyranny of the French, the Vietnam War (during which an unknown number emigrated to France), Communist rule and economic mayhem, the Cham Balamon people and traditions are surprisingly intact. Their temples are still standing. Their festivals are still celebrated and the traditional Hindu ceremonies and worship continue. Life’s passages, such as graduations, weddings, births and deaths, are still observed in accordance with the Hindu traditions. Along with the Balinese Hindus, the Cham Balamon represent the only remaining non-Indic populations of indigenous Hindus surviving today.

Another ancient Hindu Temple site – My Son is a unique Hindu sanctuary located in central Viet Nam. It was the capital of the Champa Kingdom and in use from the 4th to 13th century AD. The site once contained over 70 structures of brick and stone, dedicated mostly to the deities Shiva, Krishna, and Vishnu. Today only about 20 temples remain due to destruction by bombing of the site. Despite the fall of the Champa Kingdom, the Cham culture continues to survive.

There are 4,000 Indian (Tamil) Hindus in Ho Chi Minh City. The Mariamman Temple, Ho Chi Minh City is their focal point.It is also considered sacred by many native Vietnamese and Chinese.It is also believed to have miraculous powers and is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman.

There are three Indian Hindu temples in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)-Sri Thendayuthapani temple, Đền Subramaniam Swamy temple and Mariamman Temple.
AT last I will request everyone to save these heritage for our next generation , and visit these sites and work towards the conservation for these historical sites and Champa traditions and rituals.. 

Will Continue…

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