The "Knights" of My Son Sanctuary



The girl’s voice becomes sweet when she mentions Kazic, a Polish architect, who led a group of volunteer archaeologists and relic preservation experts to work at My Son sanctuary (Duy Xuyen district, Quang Nam province) in 1980. Truly deep grief, on the way to the Cham towers, they trod on the mines left out from the war and 6 out of them passed from the life, 11 of the others were  injured. Was that a terrible threat to anyone who wants to discover the secrete land of the Hindu Gods?

Tourists  at My Son monuments.
Tourists at My Son monuments.

After the accident, some members of the group were disheartened and abandoned their work at My Son. Kazic’s wife and children called him to return home. His friends told him to leave Vietnam. But the Polish architect decided to stay with My Son, with the Champa ancient temples and towers to the end of his life. “When I die, please bury me here. I love My Son. I’m living as a resident of My Son and I want to disappear into its soil," Kazic said with his Vietnamese friends.

During 16 years, Kazic lived and worked hard until his death to explore, investigate, maintain and preserve the Hindu temples and towers of My Son Sanctuary which had been broken down and buried by bombs and mines for a longtime. All stories about the Apsara statues, ancient temples and towers discovered at this World Cultural Heritage have not been only the unique art of Champa sculpture and architecture, or the secretes of the red bricks and the adhesive which were used to build the monuments, but also the  dangers and troubles which Kazic and his colleagues had to face such as leftover bombs and mines, wilderness, tropical diseases, heavy floods, harsh climate,  shortage of funds and poor working conditions…

However, Kazic overcame all difficulties and hardships, devoted his life in Vietnam to the researches, restorations and preservation of these ancient architectural monuments, which have been valued as the significant symbol and witness of a Champa glorious civilization…"No matter how harsh it is, I will try to endure provided that I can live with the relics," Kazic once said to his partners.

Apsara dancers.
Apsara dancers.

Coming to My Son, Kazic lived and worked like an assiduous woodsman… He seldom went out of the forest and spent most of his time on broken bricks and excavating the Cham monuments. Besides, the weather and environment at My Son are very harsh and hard to forecast. Being effected by hot and dry westerly wind from Laos, sometimes, it’s too hot in day time, but very cold in the night. These troubles, however, could not make Kazic discouraged. Some people asked “Why haven’t these temples and towers  sunk?”, and “Thanks to Kazic’s merit” was the answer.  The praise “Kazic’s work has helped to relive the ancient monuments, Cham civilisation and cultural heritage of humanity” was not wrong. He always thought about the ways and methods to maintain and restore the temples and towers of My Son relic perfectly like their first appearance thousands of years ago. It was Kazic’s life, career and expectation.

After more than a decade of being restored and preserved under Kazic’s guidance, My Son Sanctuary was handed over to Duy Xuyen district authorities (Quang Nam province) in January 1996 for further preservation and promotion as a famous tourist site.  Kazic also  significantly contributed to the restoration and preservation of Hoi An Ancient Town – another World Cultural Heritage recognized by UNESCO in 1999.

But Kazic could not see the last achievement that he and his colleagues have brought to Quang Nam land. He passed away in 1997 in Vietnam after 17 years of working hard to relive a grandiose and magnificent structure for humanity -  My Son Sanctuary  site - a World Cultural Heritage.  He was not buried at My Son Sanctuary and “disappeared into its soil” as his expectation. The body of architect Kazimieriz Kwiatkhowski – Kazic was repatriated to his native country, Poland.

Kazic’s love and tireless dedications for Vietnam and My Son will be enshrined forever in the hearts of Quang Nam people. The authorities and residents in Hoi An city and  Duy Xuyen district decided to build an empty tomb and erect a bust of Kazic in Hoi An city on the occasion of  10 years Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary site recognized as World Cultural Heritage (1999). Another statue of Kazic was also erected at An Hoi Sculpture Garden of Hoi An city.

The bust of Kazic in Hoi An city.
The bust of Kazic in Hoi An city.

A painter of the ancient monuments

Painter Nguyen Thuong Hy was born in Hue city in 1956. After graduating from Hue College of Arts, in 1980, he volunteered to work with Polish architect Kazic at My Son relics to research and paint the ancient Champa temples, towers and Apsara statues. Along with Kazic for more than 16 years, Hy studied and understood many things about preservation and the Cham world.  Despite all rumors about “secrete deaths” for people who are closely related to the Champa towers, Hy continued his ambition to make friends with the red bricks and the Champa architectural beauty.

Painter Nguyen Thuong Hy.
Painter Nguyen Thuong Hy.

Some people said “Hy is a mad man” when he decided to retire early right after he was promoted as Head of the Department of Relic Management. Returning the normal life, Hy did not live in the city. In 2012, he built a small thatched cottage on a  stony hill near My Son Sanctuary to live and continue to paint pictures of My Son’s Champa temples, towers and Apsara. He also designed his cottage like an ancient one. The floor was a combination of soil, straw ash and salt. He said “this floor makes the house always cool”. Many people have gone to his house to study the method of making the floor. When coming to My Son, many tourists have visited and stayed at Hy’s house as a "homestay” tour, he has happily welcomed and told the visitors many stories about the Champa civilization, its unique architecture and the life of the secrete monuments in My Son. The tourists want to pay for what  Hy has done for them, but the painter just says “Thanks so much, all are free of charge”.

I look stupid before Hy’s “Apsara” picture hung on the wall. It is right to call him “the Cham painter”. After more than 30 years of attachment to the land and (stupas) the towers of My Son, his hair is bobbed in the Cham colour, his beard contains the Cham figure and his humane face has the beauty of the Cham spirit…

The sunlight is yellow in the afternoon, but the light spreading up from My Son Sanctuary is red like the colour of  the mysterious Cham bricks.

In 2013, a  part of The Miss Ethnic Vietnam competition was held at My Son Sanctuary. All participants are beautiful young girls –the embodiments of the holy Apsara. I suddenly remember some sentimental and nice lyrics of the song “Rain falling on the ancient towers”, composed by Tran Tien:“Five fingers as  five basic elements/ hundred-year  dance/ Glory- glory - glory  to Silva/ a circle of hypnotization – hypnotizing Apsara…