Founded around 781 AD, the Po Nagar Cham Tower is one of the most significant religious buildings in Nha Trang that represents the art and architecture of the Chams. The ancient buildings were dedicated to the goddess of the country Yan Po Nagar who shares the same image with the Hindu goddesses Mahishasuramardini and Bhagavati. Po Nagar is a popular deity known as the goddess with ten arms and is credited for helping the people by teaching them how to farm. The original statue was made from hard incense wood but was taken out by the French during 1946. It was replaced by a more Vietnamese-featured statue.
The towers were once built at the portal of Cai River, particularly where the river and the ocean meet. It stood remotely on a rock foundation. However, because of the changing coastal surface through many years, the land it stood on became part of the major land mass. Today, the tower stands on the north of the river and the rock formation on which it stood turned out to be Mount Cu Lao.
Located 1.5 kilometers north of city center, the Cham towers were built by the Hindu Cham people. Originally, the structure was composed of ten towers (kalan) but through the centuries, only four have been left standing. These are in rather poor condition and restoration work on Cham Tower has been long-deemed necessary. Regardless of the restoration, the complex terracotta towers still manage to radiate a reminiscent impression.
The Po Nagar Cham Towers consist of three levels with the highest tower having another two rows of tower. Each tower is a shrine for a specific deity. One tower is dedicated to Shiva who is one of the greatest deities in Hinduism. Another tower is a shrine to Ganesha, son of Shiva who is a deity with a human body and the head of an elephant. The Po Nagar is the tallest among all towers and is known as Thap Ba or the Tower of the Lady. Po Nagar (Uma) is the wife of Shiva, the supreme deity. The Po Nagar tower is 23 meters in height.
Red bricks were used in constructing the Po Nagar Cham Towers. The square structure is crowned by a pyramid, topped with the four-armed Shiva statue riding over Nandin, the mythical bull that serves as Shiva’s mount. The central image of the temple is the 1.2-meter tall statue of goddess Yan Po Nagar, dressed only in a skirt and in cross-legged sitting position with ten arms holding different symbolic items. A sculpted image of Mahishasura Mardini is placed on the pediment at the entrance hall of the temple. It represents the four-armed goddess holding a lotus, a hatchet and a club, standing together with a buffalo. The sculpture was inspired from the Tra Kieu style, a Cham art that began around the end of 10th Century or the start of 11th Century AD.
Outside Po Nagar Cham Towers are numerous intricate rock carvings of people rowing boats, dancers, farmers grinding rice and hunting using bows and arrows. Inside the towers is an airy and cool atmosphere. Today, Yan Po Nagar is still deemed as the protector of Nha Trang city and the statue is bathed every March, during the Merian Festival.