Cham Sculptures

Cham Sculptures

CHAM SCULPTURES IN DANANG, VIETNAM

The Cham created freestanding sandstone sculptures in the round, as well as high and bas-relief carvings of sandstone. In general, they appear to have preferred sculpting in relief, and they excelled especially at sculpture in high relief.
Cham sculpture went through a marked succession of historical styles, the foremost of which produced some of the best works of Southeast Asian art.
The subject-matter of Cham sculpture is drawn mostly from the legends and religion of Indian civilization. Many of the sculptures are representations of particular Hindu and Buddhist deities, most prominently Siva, but also Lokesvara, Visnu, Brahma, Devi, and Shakti. Such sculptures may have
served a religious purpose rather than being purely decorative. Any sculpture in the round of an important deity that is completely forward-oriented, not engaged in any particular action, and equipped with symbolic paraphernalia, would have been a candidate for ritual or devotional use.

Cham sculptors also created numerous lingas, phallic posts linked symbolically with Siva (if the cross-section is a circle) or with the trimurti (if the post is segmented, consisting of a lower square section symbolic of Brahma, a middle octagonal section symbolic of Visnu, and a top circular section symbolic of Siva). The ritual uses of the linga are familiar from modern Hinduism.

A few of the sculptures in the art of Champa depart from the Indian subject-matter to reveal something of the life of the historical Cham people. An example are the especially well-executed representations of elephants that serve as decorative details in some pieces: from written sources we know that the Cham relied on elephants for military and other purposes, since they lacked a steady supply of horses. Other sculptures reflect the cultural legacy of Greater India and express legendary themes more typical of Javanese or Cambodian art than the art of India.
An example of such a theme is the motif of the makara sea-monster, which came to Champa from Java, where it is prominent in the art of the Borobudur and other temples of the same period.