Po Nagar Towers (built 7th-12th centuries)
Located on a small hill at the mouth of the Cai River at Nha Trang, the temple Po Nagar is named for a goddess of local origin who is said to have created the earth, eaglewood, and rice. The temple was built during the Hindu period of Champa, and thus the image of the goddess takes the form of Uma, wife of Siva.
Po Nagar is now used by Vietnamese, who have dressed the goddess in Buddhist robes. The temple is also popular with tourists, and the parking lot for tour buses is small and crowded. A small fee is charged for entry.
The first temple buildings were of wood, but were destroyed by seagoing raiders from Java around 774 A.D. The first brick structure, built ten years after the raid, is no longer extant. The earliest surviving structure, according to Tran Ky Phuong (citing Parmentier and Stern), is the mandapa -- it was built sometime before the inscription dated to 817, which mentions it. Tran Ky Phuong (citing Stern's classification of styles) dates the small northwest tower to the 10th Century, and the main tower to the 11th Century.
In its most complete form, the complex probably consisted of 6 towers, in two parallel rows of three, but the south-west and center-west towers have vanished. The arrangement makes an interesting comparison with the brick towers of Lolei, near Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which were built at the end of the 8th Century.
For a fascinating discussion of the regional influence of this goddess, see "The Vietnamization of Po Nagar" by Nguyen The An, from Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, edited by K.W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 1995.
All images copyright 2004 Mike High, Editor, U.S. Dept. of Education, Hunting Creek Road, Arlington, Virginia, USA (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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