Art of Champa

Art of Champa.  The Khmer empire lasted from about 802 A.D., when it was first declared by King Jayavarman II, until about 1431 A.D., when the Thai sacked the capital at Angkor.  It reached its zenith in the 11th and 12th centuries.  During that period, its greatest rival in Southeast Asia was the coastal kingdom of Champa, an Indic civilization centered in what is now central and southern Vietnam.  Champa had grown out of colonies established by seafarers coming from the Indonesian islands.  It flourished as an important stopover on the maritime trade routes that linked China with the Indonesian islands, India, and the Mediterranean.  Champa survived for over a thousand years but was gradually overrun by the Sinic Dai Viet, the ancestors of the modern Vietnamese, who expanded southwards from the area around modern Hanoi.  Due to pressure from the Viet, the Cham abandoned their northern capital of Indrapura (near modern Da Nang) around 1000.  The southernmost Cham principalities forfeited their independence by the end of the 17th century.Images of Cham warriors are preserved in the bas-reliefs of Bayon in Cambodia, which depict the 12th century Cham invasions of Angkor.  However, one need not rely on Khmer representations in order to get a picture of this lost civilization.  Some Cham ruins remain near My Son and scattered throughout other locations in central Vietnam.  Artifacts relating to the medieval Cham can be seen in Vietnamese museums, the most important collection being in the Champa Museum in Da Nang.

The Krishna Pedestal.  The banner image above is of a bas relief on the stone base of the famous 10th century “Tra Kieu Pedestal,” which might more descriptively be called the “Krishna Pedestal” on account of a number of carvings representing scenes from the life of Krishna.  On the base of the pedestal rests a massive lingam and yoni sculpture that is not pictured.  The bas relief shows a row of dancing apsaras, flanked by two lions posing as atlas supports for the superstructure.  Here is a Youtube video about the pedestal:

The Pedestal of Ascetics.  Another famous work of Cham religious art is the 7th century “My Son E1 Pedestal,” which might more descriptively be called the “Pedestal of Ascetics,” because it is decorated with carvings representing scenes from the lives of religious ascetics.  Here is a Youtube video about this pedestal:

Related pages on this website: 10 Battle of Khmer and Cham (bas relief at Bayon depicting the battle in 1181 A.D. between the Khmer and the Cham); 17 Demons (Kalas and other demonic figures in the art of Angkor).

While the figures of Angkorian sculpture and bas relief often project a certain stiffness and spiritual reserve, the style of Champa is sensual, even voluptuous.  The three works pictured to the left, above, and to the right are on display at the Champa Museum in Da Nang.The dancer to the left belongs to the Thap Mam style of the 12th century, so named after a place in modern Binh Dinh province where archeologists have discovered sculptures belonging to the style.  During this period, the Cham capital city of Vijaya was located in Binh Dinh, somewhat south of the earlier capital of Indrapura that had been abandoned around the year 1000.  The Cham of Vijaya were in constant contact and conflict with the Khmer of Angkor, who were at their most powerful and expansionistic during the 12th century.

The art of Champa draws upon much the same Indian mythological subject matter as the art of Angkor; the style, however, is entirely different.  While the Khmer seem to have preferred low relief sculpture (sculpture that rises but little from the wall background), the Cham clearly had a preference for high relief, with some figures, such as the dancer to the left, seeming almost to detach themselves from the wall that serves them for support.The multi-armed dancing Shiva above belongs to a transitional phase between the 10th century artistic styles of Dong Duong and Khuong My.  He is flanked on either side by adoring devotees with the lower bodies of Nagas and the upper bodies of humans.

The ruins found at Dong Duong have been identified with the northern Cham capital of Indrapura that was abandoned around the year 1000.  Indrapura was the site of a magnificent Buddhist monastery, some of the sculpture of which has been preserved.  Both Dong Duong and Khuong My are places near modern Da Nang.

Garuda, the enemy of serpents, was a favorite motif of the Cham sculptors as he was for the Khmer.  Here he is shown devouring a snake.  Cham sculptors creating images of Garuda were influenced by prototypes from Java as well as Angkor.  The Angkorian influence was felt most strongly in the late 12th and early 13th century, when Vijaya for a period of about 20 years fell under the hegemony of Angkor.

The Garuda above has been dated to the 13th century.  The workmanship is Cham; the style is Javanese rather than Angkorian in inspiration.  Some features of Javanese style Garudas are that they have rounded duck-like bills and thick breasts, suggesting that some may be female.  Angkor style Garudas of the late 12th century are clearly male, and they have sharp beaks.

One of the finest pieces in the collection of Cham works of art on display in the Fine Arts Museum in Saigon is this stone sculpture of a woman praying.  Her slender features and especially her tight, thin lips are atypical for Cham sculpture.

The tall hat gives this woman a priestly appearance, but its precise significance remains a mystery.  The statue has been dated to the 14th – 16th centuries, and belongs to the artistic style of the famous 13th century temple of Po Klaung Garai near Phan Rang.

This stone statue, also in the Fine Arts Museum, may represent Durga the fighting goddess or perhaps a Dvarapala (temple guardian).  It belongs to the style typical of the monastery of Dong Duong and is dated to the end of the 10th century.

The Cham towers and buildings at My Son are made of small reddish bricks rather than the large grey stones that the Khmer used to build Angkor.  They are largely in a state of ruin, due in no small part to damage caused in the recent war.

The dominant religious image at My Son is the lingam, identified with the phallus and with the god Shiva.  The base supporting the lingam is the yoni, identified with the womb.  Some lingams are simple posts, while others are inscribed with designs.

At My Son a statue of Shiva seated in the position of royal ease takes the place of a lingam mounted on a yoni-like pedestal.  The deity’s head, unfortunately, is missing.  Serpents serve as the cords across his chest and around the deity’s arms.

A Youtube video presents Cham representations of the divine man-bird Garuda.

These Cham sculptures are on display in the History Museum in Hanoi.  To the left, a duck-billed female Garuda assumes a fighting pose.  In the center is a dancing apsara.  To the right, a naga issues from the maw of a makara, a mythical creature with the body of a serpent, the head of a crocodile, and the trunk of an elephant.All three of these sculptures belong to the 10th century artistic style characteristic of artifacts found near the modern Vietnamese village of Tra Kieu, a location which some scholars have indentified with the medieval Cham citadel of Simhapura (“Lion City”).  The settlement at Tra Kieu flourished during the 10th century, when Champa served as an important link in the maritime trade routes connecting China and India.  It was perhaps the “golden age” of Champa, before conflict with the Viet to the north and the Khmer to the west led to its decline.

A Youtube video presents Cham sculptures of Nagas, beings that are part serpent and part human.