Story: Dr. Tran Tan Vinh
Photos: Dr Tran Tan Vinh, Tran Quang Minh

Cultures worldwide have worshipped fertility symbols. Hinduism pays homage to linga – yoni statues, vivid symbols of proliferation. The Linga-Yoni symbolizes wishes for favorable weather, bumper crops and offspring. Linga statues of the Saivite school were modeled to depict the face of the God Siva. They are sometimes called “humanoid linga” or “mukhalinga”. Unique mukhalinga statues are found in the Cham towers of Po Klong Garai and Po Rome, located in the south-central Vietnamese provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan. These mukhalinga statues are not linked to Siva, but depict the faces of ancient Champa kings.

The Po Klong Garai Tower

Mulkhalinga statues symbolizing the Hindu god Siva were once fairly common in Vietnam. People of the Oc Eo civilization, which flourished in Vietnam’s Southwest from around the 4th to 7th centuries until the late 11th century, depicted Siva’s face on bas-reliefs on cylindrical pillars at the tops of holy pillars. Museums in this region, including the An Giang Museum, display many of these mukhalinga relics.

Further north lie the provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan, once the Cham state of Panduranga. Here, Champa people modified fertility symbols to deviate from their Hindu origins. These provinces boast two towers dedicated to King Po Klong Garai and King Po Rome that feature two special mukhalingas. Instead of the head of Siva, these lingas have the two kings’ heads attached.

The Po Klong Garai Tower

At the entrance to the Po Klong Garai Tower is a relief of Siva. Inside lies a giant mukhalinga statue and a yoni pedestal, both in excellent condition. A god is depicted on the mukhalinga. He has a refined face, sparse whiskers, a sharp pointed beard, slightly slanted eyes and broad, saggy ears. The god wears a cylindrical cap decorated with a slender swathe of four-pointed flowers. Under the cap, his neatly braided hair hangs loose. A necklace lies on his chest and there are egg-shaped gemstones in his earlobes. This mukhalinga token was placed on a huge, rectangular yoni pedestal. This mukhalinga depicts King Po Klong Garai, a wise and adept ruler who improved water irritation and helped to enrich his subjects. Cham people pay homage to this king’s memory in the form of a mukhalinga. 

In Po Rome Tower, the king is also shown transforming into the god Siva with six arms. According to researchers, Champa kings in Panduranga (Ninh Thuan – Binh Thuan) were worshipped as demigods. These artworks demonstrate the creative and accretive strength of Champa people, who merged local beliefs and gods with the Hindu cults of Siva.

The chief shaman and officers bathe the King Po Klong Garai statue in holy water

During the New Year holidays (Mbang Ka Te Festival), Cham people host their largest festival in memory of their national heroes and ancestors. Sacred rituals are normally performed around the mukhalingas dedicated to demigod kings. The chief shaman and officers bathe the statue in holy water, present offerings and change the statue’s clothes to honor the ancient kings. The shaman invites the kings and begs them to grant mercy on their offspring. Before opening the towers to perform the mukhalinga bathing ceremony, the Champa shaman tosses a pot of holy water to bathe the Siva statue.

The Research Center for Champa Culture of Ninh Thuan houses two types of mukhalinga symbols. The Po Rome mukhalinga was recreated by craftsman Thanh Van Truong and the Po Klong Garai mukhalinga was replicated by craftsman Phung Ngoc Anh, based on the originals in the temple towers. 

Central Vietnam is home to many invaluable Cham sites and treasures. Of these, the mukhalinga statues dedicated to kings in the Cham towers of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan are unique. These lively sculptures possess great spiritual and artistic value. Priceless relics of the Champa Kingdom, these treasures deserve more admiration from visitors traveling through the former kingdom of Panduranga.