Towering Temple Recalls Colorful Cham History

By Maj. John Tabor

SEVENTH AIR FORCE NEWS, 13 May 1970, PHAN RANG -- As every Air Force pilot who has ever landed here knows, a majestic, silent sentinel guards the south end of the runway. This guard is a towering red-brick temple.

Rising above the base, and nearby Thap Cham village, stands the 800-year-old Cham Temple. The remnant of the once powerful Champa Kingdom at one time was both secular and religious.

Cham people still inhabit the local area. Their number is small, and their wealth and power are gone. Only the silent temple remains as a reminder of past glories.

The temple comes to life once a year, though, when the Cham New Year is celebrated in mid-September. Amid an atmosphere both religious and festive, many of the ancient Cham dances, chants and rituals are performed by loyal followers. After the three-day ceremony, the temple becomes silent for another year as the priests and worshipers trod slowly down the hill into the village.

The Champa kingdom was established around 200 A.D. after the Chams gained their independence from the Chinese. At the peak of their strength their kingdom stretched along the coast of what is now the Republic of Vietnam, from Hue to Phan Thiet. During this golden period, the Chams were widely known as skilled mariners and sea pirates. Their wealth in gold, amber, perfume, aromatic wood and cotton was legendary in Southeast Asia.

The Champa Kingdom lasted approximately 1,500 years. Throughout their history, they continuously battled with the Vietnamese. The Chams suffered a serious defeat in 1471 when their capital fell to the Vietnamese. The secular kingdom, as such, finally disappeared in the late 1700's, leaving only the religious aspects which remain today.

There are now about 35,000 Chams living in Vietnam, most of whom live in Ninh Thuan Province, near this air base.

The Cham Temple was built in 1306 by King Jaya Simhavarman III. It consists of a main tower and two smaller towers. The tallest tower is about 60 feet high and stands upon a square foundation of stone, 27 feet high on each side.

Seventh Air Force photo

1970 Log