by Nguyen Thi Thuy Anh, Zhang Jianhua
MY SON, Vietnam, May 12 (Xinhua) -- Local and foreign visitors to the My Son Sanctuary, which can be found some 650 km south of Hanoi in central Vietnam's Quang Nam province, still wonder with awe at the remarkable architectural ensemble that archeologists said has developed over ten centuries or from the 4th to 13th century.
The sanctuary, which has been declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations, presents a vivid picture of spiritual and political life in an important phase of the history of Vietnam.
It is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples located in a valley surrounded by mountains which was chosen as the site for a religious center for the capital of the Champa Kingdom.
"There are a lot of secrets about the Champa Temples in My Son Sanctuary which still remains a mystery for most people, including the Vietnamese themselves," Vo Van Nhut told Xinhua and other foreign visitors during a tour of the My Son Sanctuary.
Nhut said that a lot of people have visited the sanctuary but they did not understand how the Champa people built the temples and how they made bricks for the My Son Sanctuary monuments," the 38-year-old local tour guide said.
"The bricks here are over a thousand years old but they remain sturdy. Nobody knows about the technology adopted by the Champa people and even archaeologists could not explain how this was made possible," he said.
Nhut said that one of the biggest mysteries in My Son is how the bricks were stuck together although some Vietnamese archaeologists have said that it was possible that the builders used organic resin glue but this is only their theory. "No one knows for sure what kind of materials the builders used," he added.
The temples in My Son Sanctuary are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. The technological sophistication as shown by the temples and stone pillars betray the Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.
"When visiting My Son, it is easy to find original walls and restored walls. It is believed that when finishing the construction of the temples, the Champa people used a special mortar to cover the outer layer in order to harden it," Nhut said.
The experienced tour guide said that the old walls have bright color while the restored walls are darker.
After centuries of disuse, My Son was rediscovered by French scholars in 1898 and restoration work began in 1937.
Unfortunately, much of the site was destroyed by bombs during the war in Vietnam. In the years following, it was also ravaged by floods and vandalized by local residents.
In 1979, the My Son Sanctuary was recognized as a National Site by the Vietnamese Culture Ministry and then was ratified by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1999 based on two prominent criteria as typical example of cultural exchange and unique evidence of disappeared Asian civilization.
The 71 temples in My Son were built into groups that basically followed the same model. Each group was comprised of a main tower (kalan), surrounded by towers and auxiliary monuments. The kalan symbolizes the sacred mountain of Meru at the center of the universe, where the gods live and it is dedicated to Shiva.
The small temples are devoted to the spirits of the eight compass points. The towers were stocked by offerings and sacred objects by pilgrims. The main temples do not have windows so it is very dark inside. Windows are only found in the towers.
Another mystery in My Son is how the decorative carvings were installed. Were the walls constructed and then carved, or were the bricks carved first and then assembled to create the walls?
An examination of the carvings reveals no broken lines as expected if the bricks were carved first and then assembled. Scientists believed that the craftsmen made the carvings directly onto finished brick walls. This technique is unique in Asia.
Apart from construction method, ancient language is one more mystery found in My Son.
"It is difficult to translate the writings here. They are derived from the Sanskrit language. Languages in My Son Sanctuary are used for upper class and for religion, not for every people. It was dated about 800 years ago and being carved by a very good technology which can still be seen very clearly at present," Nhut said.