Vietnam // The southern coast //

Po Klong Garai

Elevated with fitting grandeur on a granite mound known as Trau Hill, the Po Klong Garai Cham towers are a cut above anything in the town centre. Dating back to around 1400 and the rule of King Jaya Simharvarman III, the complex comprises a kalan, or sanctuary, a smaller gate tower and a repository, under whose boat-shaped roof offerings would have been placed. It’s the 25m-high kalan, though, that’s of most interest. From a distance its stippled body impresses; up close, you see a bas-relief of six-armed Shiva cavorting above doorposts etched with Cham inscriptions and ringed by arches crackling with stonework flames, while other gods sit cross-legged in niches elsewhere around the exterior walls.

Push deeper into the kalan’s belly and there’s a mukha lingam fashioned in a likeness of the Cham king, Po Klong Garai, after whom the complex is named. In days gone by, the statue of Shiva’s bull (Nandi) that stands in the vestibule would have been “fed” by farmers wishing for good harvests; nowadays it gets a feed only at the annual Kate Festival (the Cham New Year), a great spectacle if you’re here around October. On the eve of the festival, there’s traditional Cham music and dance at the complex, followed, the next morning, by a lively procession bearing the king’s raiment to the tower.

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