Mountains, Museums, and the Mekong Delta: Travels in Vietnam

Throughout premodern Southeast Asia, mountaintop areas were selected for development of spacious temple complexes that attracted religious practitioners. Called rishis, meaning ascetics or sages, these practitioners sought to temporarily escape the trappings of daily life and concentrate on spirituality. The sites of the complexes were conducive to such focused efforts. They were positioned in relation to natural wonders—mountains, volcanos, waterfalls—that captured the senses and immersed the inhabitants into their surroundings.

Poised on the hills of central Vietnam, My Son Sanctuary is one such site. Its nine surviving temple compounds within a two-kilometer circuit are a vestige of what once was dozens of sacred structures covering a vast expanse. Within each compound, myriad buildings provided discrete spaces for various ritual practices. Still, the remaining temples and the sculptures that they housed provide an unparalleled archive of Cham culture and history. They also reveal the impressive development of Champa architecture over more than half a millennium of construction.

Emma Natalya Stein, Freer|Sackler curatorial fellow for Southeast Asian art and NYSEAN member, shares scenes from her recent journey to Vietnam.

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NYSEAN Voices, Vietnam, HistoryNYSEAN