The Champa civilization in central and southern parts of Vietnam was once a thriving bastion of Hinduism and Buddhism, which survived for more than 1000 years. The traditional Indian style architectural complex at My Son sanctuary and the archaeological ruins found over the coastal areas of Vietnam provide enough evidence to showcase the civilizational and cultural legacy of India and Vietnam.
The first Indian voyagers and traders arriving on the Malay coast were crossing the Gulf of Siam to reach Oc Eo (a key port of ancient Champa from second century CE to sixth century CE, which served as an ‘entry point’ for the voyagers). Kalinga being located on the coastline of Bay of Bengal had close maritime affairs with the kingdom of Champa. The Kalingans found a hospitable home there, intermingling cultures, customs and traditions, language and beliefs. They influenced the political, social, economic and religious life of the Chams in an extraordinary manner. Though there is very less strong research on this subject, but it can be predicted that this cooperation must have been a part of India’s ancient ‘Act East’ Policy.
It is usually contended that the great Chinese explorer and Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, in his scholarly discourses had made a special mention on the existence of seaports like Tamralipta in Kalinga from where merchants, traders and explorers sailed to Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and China. Greek philosopher Ptolemy is assumed to have pointed out the ancient maritime route to Southeast Asia from Kalinga. The Jain Uttaradhyayana Sutra refers the maritime contact between Kalinga and Champa, and has quoted the importance of Pithunda seaport. The aforesaid Jain text further states that a merchant of Champa, named Palita came to Pithunda for trade and remained there having wedded the daughter of a Kalingan merchant. While returning back to Champa his wife gave birth to a son in the ship during the expedition. Hence, his son was named as Samudrapala.
It is claimed that Simhapura, the capital of Champa was definitely named after the capital of Kalinga. In the southern part of Vietnam, the Vo-Chanh Rock Inscription, which is in Sanskrit illustrates the first kingdom in Champa by the royal family of Sri Mara, who was a Sila Raja and known as king of Barma dynasty, and is supposed to be a Kalingan. A peculiar similarity between both kingdoms was the when there was no inheritor to the throne, the practice of letting loose an elephant to cherry-pick the heir, which was practised in the early medieval period towards the closing years of the Ganga dynasty in Odisha was also practised in Champa
Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) was heavily practiced in Champa with the high regard and boundless admiration of Hindu trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesvara or Shiva). However, the occurrence of the worship of Vishnu Purushottama accompanied by Lakshmi shows that Kalinga and Champa were held together with cultural and economic ties in ancient days. Vishnu was revered in Champa as Madhava, Vikram and Hari. Several names of Vishnu like Purushottama, Madhava, Narayana, Hari, Govinda and Vikram are also very widespread in Odisha from which it can be concluded that there was close spiritual and cultural interactions between ancient Odisha and Champa.
In the Kautara region of southern Champa, the occurrence of shakti worship was there during seventh and eighth centuries CE. Bhagavati Kautaresvari or Devi Bhagavati, for whose worship a stunning temple was built by Vicitrasagara in the eight century CE, was the reigning goddess of Champa. Then again, it is worth citing that almost during the same period, reverence of goddess Bhagavati was underway at Rankada or Bankada (present Banapur) on the coast of Kalinga. Hence, from this it gives the impression that there was indeed a close cultural relationship between ancient Kalinga and Champa.
The links between Kalinga and Champa has also been derived from archaeological findings. The discovery of ancient bar celts dug from the site of Sankarjang in the Angul district of Odisha has made it clear that earliest musical instruments of Odisha were like to those excavated in Vietnam. It is also worth to note that the Srivatsa insignia of the Hathigumpha Inscription of emperor Kharavela was illustrated regularly in the coins and relics of Oc Eo in Vietnam.
Like Bhubaneswar in Odisha, My-son in Champa was acknowledged as the ‘City of Temples’ because of the full-swing building of several Hindu temples. The arrangement of Cham temples, like the first Kalingan temples encompassed of a main house of worship in the middle followed by a minor one. All the temples of Champa were structured on a square enclosure and above these three towers were raised.
Renewed interests on cultural diplomacy have conferred a new and conspicuous aspect to India-Vietnam relations. With the resumption of Hinduism/Buddhism in Communist Vietnam, the country has learnt an insightful connection with India, the cradle of Hinduism/Buddhism and Odisha, the home to several world-renowned Hindu/Buddhist monuments. In India’s thriving partnership with Vietnam, Odisha has the prospective to seize the highest importance. India needs to reassess the ancient links of Odisha with Vietnam in order to improve the present-day partnership in the spheres of academia, culture, trade, tourism and commerce. Hence, these civilizational acquaintances should be used well so as to take the developing partnership between the two countries and their people to higher zeniths.
(Abhishek Mohanty is a researcher at Centre for Vietnam Studies, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)