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My Son, a World Heritage Site

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My Son lies in a narrow valley in Duy Tan Commune, Duy Xuyen District, Quang Nam Province. 70km southwest of Da Nang City, 20km away from the Tra Kieu Citadel, and 40km away from the ancient town of Hoi An.

My Son is a group of temple-towers of Cham people. With its great value, in December 1999, the complex of My Son Cham Towers has been recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Of the 225 Cham vestiges that are founded in Viet Nam, My Son possesses 71 monuments and 32 epitaphs, the content of which is still being studied.

My Son was a complex of constructions, including different temple-towers and stela in various architectural styles.
The temples in My Son were built into groups that basically followed the same model. Each group was comprised of a main sanctuary (kalan), surrounded by towers and auxiliary monuments. The kalan, which is a symbol of Meru Mountain (centre of the universe, where the gods live) is dedicated to Shiva. The small temples are devoted to the spirits of the eight compass points. In the towers, topped with tiled, curved roofs, were stocked the offerings and sacred objects of the pilgrims. Cham temples do not have windows, so they are very dark inside. Windows are only found on the towers.

Cham towers and temples are built of bricks associated with sandstone decorations. It is quite noteworthy that no adhesive can be seen in between the bricks, which is amazing since some of the works have survived thousands of years. The structures were built, and only then did the sculptors carve the decorations of floral patterns, human figures or animals. This technique is unique in Asia.

Every kalan in My Son is comprised of three parts: the bhurloka (foundations), the bhurvaloka (body of the tower) and the svarloka (roof).

The bhurloka represents the terrestrial world. It is decorated all the way round by engravings of patterns, animals, human characters praying under small vaults, masks of Kala or Makara (monsters), dancers, musicians…

The bhurvaloka symbolises the spiritual world where, after being purified, men could meet the ancestors and the gods. It is built with very thick bricks (about 1m thick), but its height can vary from one monument to the next. The outside is decorated with pilasters, false doors or windows.

The svarloka usually has three storeys in the same style as the base, and features a main door and other, false, ones. It is decorated with small sandstone or brick statues representing mythical animals, which are mounts ridden by gods in the Indian tradition: birds, swans, buffaloes, elephants or lions. There are small decorative towers at the corners of the 1st and 2nd storeys. This roof, made of sandstone or brick, can be either pyramidal or boat-shaped.

French researchers listed some 70 temple-towers there. However, time and war together have taken their toll on these relics. Now, only 20 temple-towers remain almost intact. The rest have been reduced to ruins. These vestiges are valuable treasures of information for studying the development of Cham culture. During its seven centuries of development, Cham arts produced many works equal to masterpieces of the world. Though less impossing than the Angkor in Cambodia and less diversified than the Pagan site in Myanma, My Son is unique of its kind in Southeast Asia.

In December 1999, My Son was recognized by UNESCO as world cultural heritage based on two prominent criteria: criterion an exceptional example of cultural interchange, with an indigenous society adapting to external cultural influences, notably the Hindu art and architecture of the Indian sub-continent and criterion the Champa Kingdom was an important phenomenon in the political and cultural history of South – East Asia, vividly illustrated by the ruins of My Son.