The Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang is notable for having the largest world’s largest collection of artefacts related to the ancient Kingdom of Champa, once located in the southern half of what is modern day Vietnam.
- Opening hours: 07:30 to 17:00 (Monday to Sunday)
- Entrance fee: Adults = 60,000 VND, Children (under 16) = Free.
About the Museum of Cham Sculpture
The Museum of Cham Sculpture is in possession of around 2,000 pieces of Cham artwork, most of which is stone sculpted into figures or reliefs. About 300 to 400 items are on display at any time in what is a fairly large museum.
The Museum of Cham Sculpture itself is housed within a number of connected buildings. The original buildings are architecturally significant, influenced by European design styles with elements of Cham architecture. The beauty of the buildings, however, are obscured by the surrounding wall and the trees which have grown on either side of the path leading to the front entrance of the museum.
The Cham People
The Cham people ruled over Southern Vietnam from near the end of the 2nd Century until 1471 when the Cham-Vietnamese War resulted in the reduction of the Champa Kingdom to a small area in and around Nha Trang. In 1832 that last trace of the Champa Kingdom disappeared, with the Cham king removed from power by the Vietnamese. Since then the Cham people have had no homeland and live as minority groups in various Asian countries, most significantly Cambodia and Vietnam.
The precise origins of the Cham People is not agreed upon by historians. Most likely the Cham culture was shared by different groups living in various coastal locations in and around South East Asia, but principally on islands such as Sumatra and Borneo. The migration of the Cham to Vietnam probably happened over the course of several centuries until they became the dominant ethnic group in Southern Vietnam and established their own kingdom.
The Cham people had their own unique religious and cultural beliefs, although the Champa Kingdom is believed to have adopted parts of both Hinduism and Buddhism into the official state religion from the 5th Century onward. Belief in Islam among the Cham people grew from the 10th Century onward until the conversion of the Champa royal family to Islam in the 17th Century.
This diverse and unique culture, with its mix of indigenous and imported beliefs, is what makes Cham art so interesting. Cham sculpture is the most durable remnant of that culture.
The sculptures are displayed in clusters according to where they were found. The Cham built temples across Southern Vietnam and there are multiple sites where the artefacts have been found. The main collections are from Mỹ Sơn, Bình Định,Tháp Mẫm,Trà Kiệu, Đồng Dương, Kon Tum, Quảng Ngãi, and Quang Tri. Mỹ Sơn is particularly noteworthy because this was the largest temple complex of the Champa Kingdom.
If you are interested in learning about the history and significance of the sculpture then hiring a guide, or logging into the museum’s online audio guide, is worthwhile. There are some display boards providing information, and the sculptures are labelled, but the information provided is sparse. The small amount of information provided in many instances reflects how little is known as the specific sculptures. Understanding what’s in this museum requires a wider understanding of Cham culture.
The items on display are both individual figures, and clusters of sculptures arranged together on a stone base, referred to as a ‘pedestal’. The pedestals are interesting because they depict the way different sculptures interacted together, rather like a diorama. Both Hindu and Buddhist figures are represented.
The best artwork, however, is in the standalone sculptures which depict a wide range of real people and mythological creatures and deities. Of particular note, and probably the most famous individual item in the museum, is the statue of Bodhisattva Tara. The statue of Bodhisattva Tara is the only artefact made of bronze in the museum. Over a metre tall, this bronze is believed to have been created in the 9th century and remains the largest Cham era bronze discovered in Vietnam.
History of the Museum of Cham Sculpture
The Museum of Cham Sculpture was open in 1919. During this period Vietnam was part of France’s Indo-China colony and the creation of the museum was very much a French led project. Two French architects designed the museum and French archaeologists were responsible for sourcing the artefacts it holds.
Foremost among archaeologists studying the Cham was Henri Parmentier. Henri Parmentier was at the forefront of archaeological studies in both Vietnam and in Cambodia. As head of the archaeological department at the French School of the Far East (École française d’Extrême-Orient) Parmentier was influential and he used that influence to convince others of the importance of Champa Kingdom’s ancient artwork and that a museum should be built to display Cham sculpture.
The Museum of Cham Scuplture has been visited by political and hereditary leaders from all over the world. The display of pictures (on the second level of the museum) is a fascinating record of the history of the museum and the famous people who visited. Of particular note are the pictures of French President Jacques Chirac on his visit to the museum and of Thai King Rama VI in 1930.
Location of the Museum of Cham Sculpture
The Museum of Cham Sculpture is located 2.5 km walking distance from Da Nang Railway Station.