Cham Po-Sha-Nu Tower


Po Nagar Towers illuminate the myths of the Cham Goddess

Photo of Entry:  Po Nagar Towers illuminate the myths of the Cham Goddess

The complex of Po Nagar Cham towers, known locally as Thap Ba, is one of the most-visited sites in the central town of Nha Trang.

Located on the 20-meter-high Cu Lao hill just two kilometers north of Nha Trang, the towers were built between the 8th and 13th centuries on Cu Lao Island to serve as the Holy See of the Champa Kingdom of Panduranga, but archaeologists believe this site was used for Hindu worship as early as the second century.

Old documents reveal that construction of the towers was carried out multiple times.The first towers were razed in a war, then re-built in 774, and demolished again by another war.The current standing towers were built in 965 by King Jaya Indravarman I.The complex originally consisted of five; however, one of them was completely destroyed and now only four remain intact.Each tower is a shrine to a different deity.

The main tower, 22.48 meters high, is the biggest and most splendid one and is dedicated to Po Nagar, known as the Goddess of the Cham people.Po Nagar, whose full name was Po Yan Inu Nagar Kaut Hara, is credited for her help with teaching people weaving and new farming techniques.Thap Ba features three architectural elements - the foundation, the main body, and the roof - symbolizing the secular, spiritual, and animistic worlds.A line of pillars propped against the front wall is all that remains of the gate leading to the vestibule of the inner tower; above the gate is a bas-relief sculpture of the Hindu goddess Uma, carved in 1065 during renovations.Inside, a statue of Po Nagar sits at the center of a square room on a base of stone decorated with linga and yoni, stylized fertility symbols.Linga and yoni also adorn the top of the towers and temple roofs.Statues of the linga and the yoni held pride of place at Thap Ba.The linga is a stylized phallus symbolizing Shiva and the yoni a stylized vulva symbolizing a goddess, or a Shakti.The linga-yoni combination symbolizes fertility, not just of humans but all living creatures.The original gold statue of Po Nagar was stolen during an invasion led by a king of the southern kingdom in the 10th century.

The current replica was carved out of stone.The 260-cm Po Nagar statue sits cross-legged on a lotus blossom, leaning back against a bas-relief of the legendary Makara sea-monster.The goddess has 10 arms: one pair rests on her knees with the right hand forming a symbol of peace and the left hand open to bestow happiness; another four pairs carry various weapons demonstrating her power and ingenuity.Her chest is bare, displaying her breasts and a belly marked by four deep wrinkles.Bricks were used in the building of Po Nagar tower.The four-side structure is topped by a pyramid with a statue at the apex of the four-arm Shiva riding Nandin the enchanted ox.

The exterior of the tower is covered by intricate rock carvings of dancers, people rowing boats and grinding rice, or hunters with bows and arrows.The main tower stands at the center of the complex with three temples situated to the south, south-east and north-west.The north-west temple is a classic example of Cham architecture and design.Featuring a 9-meter-high rectangular chamber, this monument is covered by a boat-shaped roof.Carvings of the god Indra, mythical Garuda birds, lions, and women on elephants adorn its false windowpanes.Its gables also feature carvings of fig leaves and various deities.

The south-east temple, designed in the 13th century, is the smallest of the four structures.A rectangular structure is enclosed by walls on three sides, its entrance gate opens to the east and its curved roof also features a distinct boat shape.Since the mid-17th century, the Kinh (or Viet) people in the region adapted themselves to the Cham religion and culture, then “Vietnamized” the image of the goddess and renamed her as the Goddess Thien Y A Na.Legend has it that Thien Y A Na statue was originally nude, but the Viet people clothe the statue with beautiful dresses to express their respect for the goddess.Nowadays, the rituals and decoration of the altars in Po Nagar towers have been Vietnamized and Po Nagar has become the common Mother of both Vietnamese and Cham people.To commemorate the goddess Po Nagar, the Thap Ba Festival is organized annually from the 20th to 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar.

People visit the tower to offer incense and pray for health and wealth.The first two rituals of the Thap Ba Festival - the clothes-changing ceremony and the worshipping ceremony - are very solemn.On the first day, people take dresses and bonnets off the statues at the tower and bathe them with water infused with flowers.Then they put on new dresses to honor the statues.The festival continues with the worshipping ceremony, which includes sacrifices and ceremonial music.But after the solemnity come entertainment, which features hat boi (traditional Central opera), dances, folk games, and boat races in the nearby Cai River.Thap Ba Festival attracts a large number of people from other regions.

Traversing the 400 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City to indulge in this exciting atmosphere can be done by road, rail, or air.

Source ThanhnienNews

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