khmer art

Early Period (Mid 7th - Mid 9th Century)
The most characteristic of the early Cham art is the collection of sculptures from My Son (outside of Da Nang), the most venerated temples in ancient Champa. This group of sculptures marked the golden age for Cham culture, even if this culture was influenced by pre-Angkorian Khmer art. A century later, when the leadership of Champa passed to the southern provinces, artistic activity seems to have declined. It was at about this time that the Indonesian attacked on the peninsula stimulated the growth of Buddhism in Champa and revitalized its iconography.

The Period of Indrapura (Mid 9th to End of 10th Century)
Around the year 850, power once again passed to the northern provinces and for a century and a half Indrapuri (Dong Duong in present Quang Nam province) was the capital of the Cham kingdom. Though typified by two quite opposite tendencies, the period was one of intense artistic activity. As early as 875, the founding of the great Mahayana (Dai Thua) Bhuddist complex at Dong Duong led to the embellishment of a vigorous style that was much more concerned with grandeur than with human beauty, and yet welded together with a surprising degree of originality the most varied borrowings from Indonesia and China. A quarter of a century later, with the decline of Buddhism, sculpture became progressively more humane and decoration more delicate (Khuong My). When, towards the middle of the 10th century, architecture achieved a classical balance (My Son, group A), sculpture moved into its second golden age with the style of My Son A1 and Tra Kieu which shows a strong Indonesian influence. By the end of the 10th century, when the kingdom engaged in hostilities with a now independent Viet Nam, its art had already lost many of its finest qualities, especially with regard to the rendering of the human figure.

The Period of Vijaya (11th to End of 15th Century)
As result of attacks by Vietnamese forces, Indrapura, which lay to far to the north, was evacuated in favor of Vijaya (Cha Ban in the present Qui Nhon city), a capital further to the south. Even though the kingdom was threatened from all sides, Vijaya was to witness much artistic activity during the 11th and 12th centuries. Growing tension between Khmer (Cambodia) and Champa led to the introduction of some new borrowings from the Khmer art; however the worsening of political relations culminated in the occupation of Champa by forces from Angkor (1181 to 1220). All Cham artistic activity ceased, and the kingdom was to emerge much the poorer from the experience. Once set in motion, the decline was accelerated by the invincible onslaught of Viet Nam, and then, at the end of 13th century, by the Mongol threat. The few buildings erected in the 15th century in the less harassed regions are of heavier proportions and became progressively less and less ornamented (Po Klong Garai).

Late Period (After 1471)
This period began with the capture of Champa's capital of Vijaya by the Vietnamese. Po Ro Me temple, probably built in the 16th century, was the last sanctuary of the traditional type. Those that followed it (the bumongs of hybrid construction) were to be influenced by Vietnamese architecture. Religious images became mere steles (kut) which are characterized by the progressive effacement of the human physiognomy, until only attributes of rank (especially head-dresses) remains as a reminder of them. Yet although these sculptures reveal a continuos decline, they do manage to retain something of the profound originality that is the only truly constant feature of the art of Champa.
Kut in human shape, sandstone, 17th century, Thanh Hieu.

Cham Sculpture
Cham sculpture, unlike the architecture that is conservative in its design and methods, is marked by continual changes, reflecting new influences rather than a natural evolution. Although it can not be denied that there were occasions when Cham art reached heights of pure, classical beauty (such as the My Son and Tra Kieu temples), sculptures for the most part to have expressed contradictory tendencies: conventionality and innovation, a lack of decorative details and an excess of it, both realism and fantasy. There is more and more an aversion to sculpture in the round until, finally, carving in high relief became the only means of expression, and a certain disregard for natural poses resulted in a loss of balanced proportions. It should be stressed that, in view of the constant and profound changes in Cham art, it is the study of costume, hairstyle, and above all, personal ornaments that give the most reliable stylistic evidence for dating sculpture.

Apsara dancer, sandstone pedestal from Tra Kieu, early 10th century

In spite of the fact that sufficient examples of bronzes and terra cotta have survived to demonstrate that these two techniques were important at all times, too many have been destroyed for us to be able to trace their development satisfactorily. Some detachable ornaments from idols (head-dresses, bracelets, necklaces, etc.) of chased gold or silver dating from the end of the 9th century or the beginning of the 10th have been found. The only other known ornaments (the regalia of Cham kings) are not earlier than the 17th century. The visual evidence relating to personal ornaments in the intervening period is limited to that provided by sculpture.

Royal Tiara, Gold, 17th century.

Hinduism had profound influence on the ancient art of Champa and inspired many sculptures that decorate the Cham's temples and towers. These statues and bas-reliefs were carved from stone or made of terra-cotta after figures of god and mythical animals from the Brahman religion. The three divinities worshipped by the ancient Cham people are:

Brahma is the Creator who is continuing to create new realities. Brahma has four arms and four faces (represent East, West, North and South). His wife is Saravasti. Brahma is usually displayed riding on the sacred goose of Hamsa.

Shiva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive. He symbolizes all the violence and forces in the universe. Shiva has a third eye in his forehead. and can have many arms and faces. Shiva has many wives, among them Parvatti, the goddess of Earth, Uma, the goddess of grace and Durga, the goddess-combatant. Shiva is sometimes displayed riding the sacred bull of Nandin Vishnu, the Preserver who preserves these new creations.

Vishnu has one face and four arms, each arm holds a disc, a horn, a ball and a club. His wife is Laksmi, the goddess of beauty. Vishnu is usually displayed riding Garuda, the mythical creature of half-human and half bird.

Other religious figures found on the ancient Cham sculptures are Ganesa-the god of intelligence, Indra-the god of the rain, Kama-the god of love, apsara-the celestial dancers and naga-the multiple-head serpent, the founder of the dynasty.


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