Apsara dance next to the ancient tower


Memories of a good time

“My Son World Cultural Heritage” is a complex of Cham tower statues located in the valley (about 150 hectares wide) of the mountain range in Duy Phu commune, Duy Xuyen district, Quang Nam province. Currently, there are more than 70 works being preserved and restored. The tour guide took us to a bomb crater and told us it was a tearful story about more than 40 years ago with the first survey team led by Polish architect Kazik (under the archaeological cooperation program). and conservation between the governments of Vietnam and Poland).

At that time, My Son towers were still submerged in a forest full of snakes, centipedes and mosquitoes. This is a dense forest with a stream flowing around it full of animals. People are always afraid of it because the American enemy dropped many tons of bombs over this area to wipe out the revolutionary forces. The mark of a thousand-year-old empire of the famous Cham dynasty was destroyed by bullets and bombs.


In the early 80s, the survey team started with bright flares through the forest, entering the My Son valley. Architect Kazic led a group of people to explore the way through the mountains and forests, while carrying heavy tools. When the towers appeared from afar, making everyone stunned and happy, suddenly a bomb exploded. Everyone was frightened by the accident and collapsed in the fire and smoke. That time 6 people died, the rest were injured. Architect Kazic was seriously injured and had to be taken to Da Nang for emergency treatment. Since then, people have paid attention to actively checking for mines and bombs.

Ancient Cham dance.

It seemed that disaster would overwhelm the will of the archeology and restoration soldiers of this “Holy Land”. Mysterious towers may return with ghostly silhouettes, lingering around with images: ” Here are the towers worn out by longing/ Ancient temples ruined by Time/ Deserted rivers alone in the dark.” / The Cham statues are sore and groaning / These are the scenes of thousands of worms and trees with their tops falling / Thousands of Ma Hoi groping and leading each other ” (“On the way home” – Che Lan Vien’s poem). Yet the first person to carry backpacks and tools on the road was still architect Kazic. He always smiled and arrogantly stepped over the bomb crater that had thrown him high into the air. The group then continued to accompany him. They camped around the ancient tower, began clearing broken bricks, and clearing trees growing on the side of the road

The sculptures on the ancient tower appearing in the sunlight attracted architect Kazic. He and his colleagues worked day and night cleaning every remaining brick. Scaffolding was erected and everyone diligently assembled each mortar joint according to the ancient architectural diagram. However, everyone was very scared because the engineer team occasionally detected silent bombs lying next to the camp. Just like that over time, the towers gradually appeared with bright red colors, evoking the poetic and magical scene today. After 16 years of struggling with My Son, architect Kazic fell ill and died at the very place where he installed the first fire bricks on the ancient tower (1997). Before his death, he also gave a speech and wrote a dossier requesting UNESCO to recognize the My Son tower architectural complex as a “World Cultural Heritage” (1999). People built a monument to honor him right here. Kazic is considered by the Cham people to be their descendant.

Apsara sculpture of Cham tower.

Connections are not easy…

Artist Nguyen Thuong Hy, former Head of the Management Board of My Son Heritage Area, has worked with architect Kazic for many years. He described to us quite carefully the four ancient tower complex conservation areas along with their majestic beauty. The central tower is 24 meters high and the base is 100 square meters. The tower worships the god Siva Bhadravaman and is represented by the Linga-Yoni image. The tower consists of three floors that gradually narrow up. The top of the tower is a sandstone symbol. The tower’s architecture is built with thousands of smooth red clay bricks. The red color of the tower always glows under the sun like a magical ember whenever welcoming the dawn.

Artist Nguyen Thuong Hy emphasized that the motifs on the arches that adorn the tower are so ornate and vivid. Each tower creates a milestone imbued with ancient Cham culture. In particular, the images of Apsara dancers always make a unique impression. It is the image of beautiful, youthful dancers sculpted in stone. That magical beauty was described by the Cham poet Inrasara: ” Dancing in the sunset/ Curves flying away in the crumbling afternoon/ Darkness filling the thirsty valley/ Dancing calling for the dawn/ Baranung diligently patting for thousands of years ” (“Sunshine Tower”). And musician Tran Tien praised : “Curving the five fingers and five elements/ Hundred years of dance/ Namo-Namo-Namo Buddha/ A round of hypnosis, hypnosis of Apsara ” (“Rain flies to the ancient tower”).

A few years ago, Indian archaeologists discovered an ancient road about more than a meter underground. This is the result discovered in the project to restore and embellish the tower system in My Son between the governments of Vietnam and India (2016-2021). An 8 meter wide road goes straight to K tower. The two walls are built of red clay bricks with the same adhesive as the tower architecture. The path suggests work at the towers in many directions to continue on the journey to discover more secrets of My Son Heritage. Artist Nguyen Thuong Hy said, perhaps the soil below the road probably still has legacies of the ancient Cham dynasties in the early days of its formation. Moreover, since the country was first established, Cham culture has been deeply marked by Indian architecture and patterns, so it is quite rich. Even the writing (Sanskrit form) the Cham people used in royal documents and inscriptions all originated from Indian characters. So the sediments are still there, the mysteries deep underground need to be archeology. There is still a long road ahead with Cham history stretching back more than a thousand years. The mystery of My Son increasingly attracts tourists for that reason.

Dancers in My Son.

Jubilant spring festival

The presence of dancers performing next to the ancient tower is like a vivid picture of Cham culture. Those are fairies coming out of the rocks in the ancient tower built more than 700 years ago. Artist Nguyen Thuong Hy has painted many paintings of Apsara dancers over the years. People consider him the second craziest person after architect Kazic. It’s a crazy way for an artist to dedicate his whole life to My Son. The artist said, Apsara dances are the source of creative inspiration for anyone. According to legend, Apsara is a dancer of the god Indra, specializing in dancing and singing and offering flowers to the gods. The statues of dancing girls are shown on sandstone blocks with beautiful, plump faces and wide-open eyes. Apsara is sculpted in a “semi-naked” shape but shows a non-sexual angle. That is the poetic, virginal beauty of creation. That’s why, in the soul of every Cham girl there is always a fluttering feeling of fairy dreams. They dance anywhere with flexible hands to the rhythm of the Baranung drum.

The local Cham dance troupe performs for tourists. They are a group of specialized artists with dozens of folk dances and performances at the request of guests. These are familiar dances such as rowing dance, whip dance, fan dance, yin and yang dance… After each dance, there is a solo performance. The artist is also a local who sings Cham folk songs very lovingly. At this time, according to the introduction, singer Che Tuan performed the song “Someone in the distance” very warmly, with a hint of sadness. The singer’s warm and vibrating voice said: ” Who is there, who is there in the distance/ Oh lover. The lover that I have been waiting for for many years / It is my heart that misses you… “. In our hearts, we are all filled with a secret feeling imbued with Cham’s soul.

Now the “My Son Cultural Heritage” area is like a giant construction site. After the pandemic, people are rushing to restore unfinished work in time to welcome the New Year festivals. For the Cham ethnic group, beliefs are always expressed through folk dances that take place along with rituals. All are held at the temple and tower with respect and joy. Because the main towers are temples to sacred gods of the Cham people for generations. Apsara dances now became spiritual performances before religious dignitaries.


The image of a fairy is often depicted on the tower with her legs spread out on both sides with many arms behind her back. Each hand offers an offering. These are a series of expressions with diverse spiritual nuances. This image also has a philosophical metaphor when poet Inrasara wrote: ” The curves touch eternity/Eternity rotates in the impermanent whirlwind ” (“Homeland”). That is the “Zen” ritual of the Cham people. The dances alternating between “static” and “dynamic” bring vivid artistic elements that always attract everyone. And if the Apsaras are filtered and appear from the rocks (“Sleeping in the stone life”) according to the concept of the Cham people; Then, after descending to earth, singing and dancing in the festival, they reincarnated: ” Tomorrow, we will return to the stone life/ The magical curve will fade away/ This moment will become permanent/ For half the world and heaven to miss ” (“Tower of Sunshine- Inrasara”).

  • "image" Champa culture in the flow of Vietnamese culture
  • "image" Mystery under the arch of the ancient tower

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