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The Champa Kingdom: Cham History

PKMN
Po Klong M'hnai, a forgotten Cham temple Northeast of Phan Thiet, devoted to the worship of the last king of Champa

A Cham Village in Phan RangThe history of South East Asia is characterized by a number of autonomous, great Hindu Empires, located in Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia and Vietnam. The Khmer civilization known for its temples of Anchor is perhaps the most famous. The Champa Kingdom occupied Vietnam.

The kingdom of Champa controlled what is now south and central Vietnam from approximately 192 through 1697. Cham history was characterized by repeated military conflict with the Chinese, Mongols, Khmer, and the Vietnamese. The Chams were excellent warriors, and used the mountains to their great advantage.

Champa was established by the rebellion against the Chinese authority in 192, in the region of Hue, by an official named Kiu-lien. At its height in the 9th Century, the kingdom controlled the lands between Hue and the Mekong Delta. Champa included the modern provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan. Champa was a confederation of up to 5 principalities, each named after a historic region in India. Cham territory included the mountainous zone West of the coastal plain, and extended into present-day Laos.

The Kingdom's prosperity came from maritime trade in sandalwood and slaves, and included piracy. Champa was initially closely tied to Chinese cultural and religious traditions. However, wars with neighboring Funan and the acquisition of Funanese territory in the fourth century brought the infusion of Indian culture.

Cham Cemetery Near Lien Huong
Cham Cemetery Near Lien Huong

More than 100 years of war between the Chams and the Khmers (each nation saw its capital repeatedly captured and looted during this time) ended in 1203 when Jayavarman VIII occupied the country and made it a Khmer province. The Chams regained their independence in 1220.

In 1471, the Chams suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese. At least 60,000 were killed and 30,000 taken into captivity and the capital at Vijaya was destroyed. The Vietnamese annexed two Champa provinces. This event caused the first major Cham emigration, particularly to Cambodia and Malacca.

In 1692, the Cham king Po Rome of Panduranga, the last remaining independent province, rebelled against the Nguyen Lords who ruled southern Vietnam. The revolt was unsuccessful and the outcome was worsened by an outbreak of plague in Panduranga.

A Cham Tower in Phan RangAfter 1693, the Cham rulers were recognized as phien vuong (native king) in Panduranga by the Nguyen rulers of southern Vietnam. However, they were closely supervised by Nguyen officials and had no authority over Vietnamese in their territory and were inundated by Vietnamese settlers.

After an unsuccessful Cham revolt in 1786, King Chei Krei Brei (Cibri) and his subjects fled to Cambodia. The Nguyen lords allowed the line of Cham rulers to continue but downgraded their title to prefect and integrated them into the regular provincial administration. The Chams in Panduranga continued to resist total conquest until 1832, when the Vietnamese Emperor Ming Mang finally annexed the area and the Champa kingdom was finally dissolved.

Many Cham towers still stand in central Vietnam. The most significant example of Cham architecture is My Son near the Vietnamese city of Hoi An. My Son, a large complex, was heavily damaged by US bombing during the Vietnam War. There are several sites within Binh Thuan province where Cham architecture and relics can be seen. This includes the Cham Royal Family's Heritage Collection in Phan Thanh; The temple to King Po Klong Mohnai in Luong Son; The temple to King Ponit in han Hiep; and the Po Dam towers in Tuy Phong.

Fishermen at the Van Thuy Tu Whale Temple in Phan Thiet during the Cau Ngu Festival
Thap Pho Dam, the forgotten Cham Towers of Northeastern Binh Thuan Province.

The Po Klong Garai Tower is located West of Phan Rang and stands on a hill with a complex of a sanctuary, a smaller gate tower, and a repository. The complex of towers dates back to the 13th century during the rule of King Jaya Simhavaraman III. The main sanctuary is the most outstanding structure because of its bas-relief of a six-armed Shiva above the doorpost. Inside the vestibule, the statue of Shiva's bull Nandin is enshrined and worshipped by farmers who wish for good harvests.

The Thap Poshanu Cham temple tower complex sits above Phan Thiet and is part of what is refered to as "The Prince's Castle." A temple once sat at the foot of the White Sand Dunes, North of Mui Ne.

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