Ponagar Tower

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Information Ponagar Tower

The Cham Ponagar Tower

Ponagar Tower is located in Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa province, two kilometers from the city center on a 20m high hill looking out over the sea. The tower was built 900 or 1,000 years ago as a religious structure by the Cham people and the culture of the Cham is infused in the architecture and sculpture that make up the tower. Standing through the ages with historical events flowing around it, Ponagar Tower exists alongside four other architectural works. The site is located on Cu Lao Hill and it’s divided into two sections: the Mandaga area and the tower area. The Ponagar Tower became a nationally recognized historic site of cultural value on April 29, 1979.

The 1,100 square meter Mandaga area runs mostly east to west and consists of four rows of brick pillars. There is no wall surrounding the pillars but there is the roof that is made of plant materials. The pillars are made of large bricks that are water-resistant and upon which moss does not grow. Historians believe that maybe the Cham people did preparatory religious practices in the Mandaga area before a main activity at the tower. The 36 steps that one used to have to climb to reach the tower from the Mandaga are slippery in bad weather. That old path is now badly deteriorated and another path of more than 100 stone steps can be used.

After climbing those 100 steps, one reaches the tower. It is the largest (23 meters) and most beautiful in Khanh Hoa province. The bricks structure has three floors and at each level it gets smaller. At the base of the tower are five rows of pillars along the wall; on the upper levels are figures of animals. One gate, facing east, opens into the tower while three false gates will not give one access.

On the upper part of the functional gate is a stone bias relief depicting the goddess Uma with four hands, standing on the back of the sacred cow Nandin with a musician on either side. The relief is supposed to have been made in 1050. There are two rows of stone pillars with many epigraphs next to the main gate. From these epigraphs we have learned what we know about the ancient Cham kingdom (a stele at the site says that the tower was built from 813-817 and was rebuilt in the 11 and 12 centuries).

Inside the tower is a square temple area and a statue of Uma (the wife of Shiva, also called Po Inu Nagar). This is the main figure at the tower. The figure is standing on a lotus, at her back a stone plate with figures carved on both sides. The figure is female with bare breasts and 10 hands. The goddess is a mother with full breasts and stretch marks on her stomach attesting to prior childbirth. This statue was is thought to have been made in 1050 under the dynasty of King Jaya Paramesvaravarman. The Cham people worshiped the goddess Ponagar at this site and it is thought to have been the most important religious site of the Cham people.

Since 1953, large numbers of Buddhist Kinh people (the dominant ethnic culture in Vietnam) moved onto these lands and lived alongside the Hindu Cham people who remained. They did learn something about the Hindu gods and understood that the Cham people worshiped their gods at these towers. The Kinh people, having their own culture, later created the Thien Y A Na legend to explain the existence of the towers. Since that time, every year on March 23 of the lunar calendar is the Ponagar Tower Feast Day. This is now the largest traditional feast in the south-central region. The relic site represents to the Cham people their culture and traditional values and to the newcomers, the Kinh people, it represents the manner in which Kinh people live amongst those of other cultures. The result is a form of national unity and solidarity among the people of Vietnam.

Source: saigontourist.hochiminhcity.gov.vn
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