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In Search of Shiva

In the Hindu trinity, Shiva is known as the God of destruction, who resides in Mount Kailash in the Himalays, now in the Chinese Tibetan territory. But there was a time when Shiva reigned supreme as the God of protection in ancient Champa, an enterprising trading nation located on the south eastern coast of what is known today as Vietnam. Champa owed its prosperity to its location on the maritime Silk Road that stretched from China to India. But the political beliefs and organisation of its rulers came from India, with Lord Shiva as the official deity of its rulers. Successive Kings of Champa not only sought protection for their kingdom from Lord Shiva, they also claimed personal legitimacy by closely identifying with the deity.

A visit to the Cham Towers that dot the landscape of southern coastal areas of Vietnam (Danang, Binh Dinh, Nha Trang and Phan Rang), and the museums housing Champa artefacts (the most important being the Cham sculpture museum in Danang) attest to this. The main site of Cham civilisation, My Son, is in central Vietnam, which I had visited previously. This time, I was in search of Shiva in the towers of the South, which were built mostly in the last five hundred years of Champa’s tenure as an independent entity.