Cham Glory

Danang is fast becoming a rapidly expanding city with ever more high rise, two golf courses (already), a floral boulevard being populated on each side by exclusive luxury venues – in short, Danang is assuming the skyline of many other far Eastern cities. There may be some interesting old monuments but one is first awed by the new constructions, the magnificent bridges over the river Han and the beautifully gardened freeways. It will surely look even more different (or the same as any other global city?) in ten years’ time, perhaps even by next year.

I arrived at Danang from Hoi An within an hour with the yellow bus.

The big reason for visiting Danang is to explore its museum of Cham sculpture which is the largest such collection in the world. (In a previous blog  I’ve said a little about the Chams: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/who-were-the-chams/)

The Chams left some of the most poignant and mysterious statuary ever made out of a beautifully coloured sandstone. They worked in both bas-relief and all-round.. I know nothing about Cham sculpture but I could see that the sculptures on show could be divided into three main provenances:

  1. Free standing statues for religious worship as idols
  2. Decorative friezes from temples and other ornamental architectural features.
  3. Temple fixtures / lingams, yonis etc.

I found the Chams’ artistic expression often rather heavy, sometimes brutal.  When compared to its probable origin in south Indian Dravidian sculpture it clearly is less refined; the statues I visited in Chennai museum many years ago seemed rather more graceful to me.

Among some more insistent Cham sculptures, however, I found these apsara (water and cloud nymphs) of ethereal grace. It was a joy to meet them.

Moments of complete calmness of enlightenment were captured on the faces of these divinities (mainly representing the Hindu trilogy of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma).

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It is sad how much has been lost of the great artistic legacy of the Chams to wars, vandalism or just plain weathering. One of the few positive aspects of the French occupation of Vietnam, however, was the implementation of an archaeological survey and conservation measures. Indeed, the museum building itself is a result of these measures and was designed in “style indo-chinoise” during French rule with the exhibits still sporting explanation in three languages, Vietnamese, French and English, in that order.

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There were also some very informative panels on aspects of Cham sculpture written in quite decent English.

On the first floor there was an exhibition by a modern Cham artist which showed intimate scenes of village life and was very well presented.

The museum is pleasantly situated and there were gift shops and a refreshment stall where one could pause before further Vietnamese explorations.

In my case this was the train station where I booked my passage by sleeper all the way back to Ho Chi Minh City. Oh dear, only three days left in this adorable part of the world!

Above is a classic 4-8-2 metre gauge Vietnamese steam locomotive.

And below are some views from my journey to HCMC.

Finally, some video clips from the train window:

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4 thoughts on “Cham Glory

  1. The water and cloud nymphs certainly seem to be hanging around quite a feat of achievement they are indeed graceful despite their position which seems some sort suspended of lotus flower posture. The dragons too are charming bearing their teeth just to show who is boss and the 16 armed deity well that is what I need in my situation of circumstantial chaos I would achieve so much more! I thought that the train driver was very sweet his moment of fame in life did you tell him he would appear in a blog well maybe you can show him next time.

  2. Yes Francis, I must return. I am so taken by this country although I will probably avoid the big cities next time. They are exciting but not me. Great post. Lyn

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