Sunday, January 18, 2015

Danang's West Bank

17 January 2015

People in Danang are exceptionally friendly, calling out "Hello, hello!" as we walk by.  The children seem to get all excited when we respond with a "hello" and are happy to be photographed.  Though I have to admit I have no idea why this cute little girl is making such a face, unless she's trying to look scary like a lion or dragon.

One day, we sort of stumbled upon a wedding - we were walking around the neighborhood, back from something, and heard loud music coming from a small side street.  We walked around the corner to see what was happening, and it looked something like a street fair, with a huge canopy in the middle of the street and people milling about.  We walked a bit closer, then closer still, and eventually realized it was a wedding!  We didn't want to interrupt, so we just watched from a distance.  But the bride was in a lovely royal blue and silver ballgown, with a huge skirt of layered tulle or organza, and a bodice full of sparkle and embroidery.  Grandparents and parents left in taxis, others just sort of stood around, and some random man told me something about 20 and married - not sure if he's getting married in 20 days, or if he's been married 20 years, or what.
But he was happy and proud, so I nodded and smiled and told him it was good.

The wedding-in-the-street was around the corner from a temple - the designs on the roofs are distinctive.  So we walked by a day or two later, and found a couple of lovely statues, huge and white.  Not sure if these are Lady Buddhas, Lady of Mercy, Bodhisattvas, or what.  The temple seemed to be in the process of being built, there was no one around to ask, so I just took some photos and enjoyed the serene beauty of the statues.

I headed over to the Cham Museum, right by the west side of the Dragon Bridge, and Richard explored the neighborhood over there.  Yes, we walked across the Dragon Bridge, but he needs his own blog.  

So, the Cham civilization - the Champa Kingdom established the town of Danang in the 2nd century, bringing Hinduism to this part of SE Asia.  

Most of the artifacts in the Cham Museum came from the My Son archaeological site, which is southwest of Danang.  Apparently this site was the most sacred place of the Champa Kingdom.  The information from the museum says:  "Protected by a circle of mountains, there were over 70 structures of brick and stone, most of which were dedicated to Siva."  

The first survey and excavations were conducted in 1903-04 by archaeologists Henri Parmentier and Charles Carpeaux.  They found evidence that the My Son site construction began in the 4th century, though the best preserved sculptures are from the 10th and 11th centuries.

There were the usual statues of Hindu gods and goddesses and ancestors, with multiple arms and hoods formed by friendly cobras.  Elephants seemed to be everywhere.

And there were statues of beautiful dragons!  Dragons looking friendly and frollicking in the sea, waving their hands like friendly kings and queens, and an acrobatic dragon doing hand stands!  They had wonderful faces and were covered with intricate carvings, and probably were my favorite artifacts in the place.

And then things became confusing.  There were rooms devoted to other Champa sites, such as Dong Duong - except this was a Buddhist site.  

So the Champa people had at least two religions, and created important architectural sites that were Buddhist as well as Hindu.  But to tell the truth, I couldn't really see much difference in the sculptures that were exhibited, since the Champa sculpted their gods and goddesses and bodhisattvas in much the same manner, regardless of who they were.  Plus there were still elephants, which are symbolic in both religions.

Sometimes touring a museum is similar to travelling through unknown countries - try as we might, we don't understand enough to comprehend the intricacies of the culture and society.  So we just accept that we don't know, that we can't speak enough of the language to ask or comprehend, and all we can do is continue to appreciate and try to understand whatever we might encounter.

That became my mindset as I wandered through the rest of the museum.  Some artifacts were Hindu, some Buddhist, okay fine, I won't worry about which is which.  Some came from My Son, others from Dong Duong, still more from Chien something - okay, no worries, wherever.  I just enjoyed the artwork, and left it at that.  (And how nice is it to find a museum that allows photos?!?!?!  One needs to ask when buying the entry ticket and then handing it over - and the agreement is that the photos are for "souvenir purposes."  But still, such a nice feature for those of us who like to keep photos of such visits!)

There's also a Buddhist temple right in back of the Cham Museum, with beautiful dragons and other figures adorning the roof.  The best view is from the second floor of the museum.

And upstairs on that second floor, I found the answers to my questions about the Champa Kingdom - this was the name given to the culture that came into existence in the 3rd century and lasted until the 17th century CE, and controlled this middle section of Vietnam.  The people were comprised of Austronesian and maritime populations, and were strongly influenced by Indian culture.  They used Sanskrit and later adapted Sanskrit script to the Champa language.  They also were the major rulers between the Dai Viet to the north and the Khmer Kindgom in the western part of Indochina.

The Champa were part of the Hindu-to-Buddhism transition period and region, but also retained many of their traditional deities and beliefs.

And, most interestingly, there are Cham people today still living in Vietnam and Cambodia.  One group has converted to Islam, but the other groups have maintained their worship of the goddess Po Nagar, Goddess of the Motherland.  

So finally, things made a bit more sense.  

There were wonderful photos of Vietnamese scenery - really a gorgeous and varied country!  Also information on various cultural practices around the country.

And then it was time to sit outside under the ancient tree and wait a bit for Richard, as I sipped hot lemon tea (very hot, very sweet, and very intensely lemony, sort of like a liquid lemon drop candy!) which was perfect for this rather cool and damp day.  Not rainy just damp.  Weather like autumn.

Richard arrived, we walked around the area a bit more, and just enjoyed Danang.  Beautiful marble lions with red bows, a wonderful storm drain reminding us that fish will live in this water, just little details that make a place interesting.

We're looking forward to Saturday, when we can watch the dragon at the bridge breathe fire and smoke!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing! I especially loved the dragons curling around the edges of the roof!