If Hoi An is popular for one thing, it’s got to be the ancient ruins of My Son Sanctuary located just outside the city. The sanctuary was once the spiritual center of the Kingdom of Champa, the early settlers of ancient Quang Nam province. Over a thousand years ago, the Cham people led a flourishing culture in the central regions of Vietnam. Today, it is not clear who these people were and where they came. It is apparent, though, that they settled along the seaside town of Hoi An in the 1st and 2nd Centuries, traded with neighboring countries, was responsible for spreading Hinduism in Southeast Asia, and had engineering capabilities as made obvious in My Son.
The Champa Kingdom, culture and people vanished after the Vietnamese conquered their territories. The Cham people gave up their identity and assimilated with the dominant Vietnamese, who also drove away the Chinese after these foreign invaders ruled the country for some time. It is believed that for some time, the Chinese plundered the Cham villages and forced the people to pay taxes.
The greatest and only recorded achievement of the Cham people is the construction of My Son Sanctuary, which was originally made up of 70 monumental towers standing on square or rectangular foundations. Built completely from baked bricks and sandstone, it is believed that the three parts of each tower represent something: the base represents the world and people, the tower or main structure the spirit world, and the lotus-shaped tower head the realm between the physical and spiritual worlds.
About My Son Hindu Sanctuary
Ancient ruins always catapult the thoughts of viewers to the world that was, to how the ancient people used to live, and to what happened along the way. Standing within the My Son ruins creates a feeling or vibration that is similar when among the ruins of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which seem to have a connection with My Son.
The compound used to be a majestic, holy valley made up of Hindu temples, burial grounds, and monuments with Sanskrit and Cham inscriptions. It is believed that the first tower was constructed in the 4th Century by Bhadravarman, the Champa king. He called the temple Bhadresvara, which was a combination of his name and Ishvara (Shiva), the Hindu god. For generations, more towers were added and the site was considered sacred until the Vietnamese took over in the 14th Century. It was left neglected and untouched since then, until it was discovered by a French scholar in the 1930’s. In 1999, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, only 25 of the original 70 towers remain standing but with varying degree of ruins. Sadly, the destruction of these towers was not brought about by years of aging or of natural causes. They suffered from the guns, bullets and heavy shelling of American soldiers who suspected that the Viet Cong was hiding among the towers. US forces believed that the sanctuary was Viet Cong field headquarters, but this claim was never proven. Next to the thousands of lives that were lost from the war, the My Son Sanctuary towers were the most precious casualties of the Vietnam-American War.