The Cham Hindus of Vietnam are an almost forgotten people, remnants of the Cham dynasty which endured in the region now known as central Vietnam from the 7th century well into the 19th. Yet they are 60,000 strong, and they have kept their traditions alive for centuries, far from India’s shores. Builders of cities named Indrapura, Simhapura, Amaravati, Vijaya and Panduranga, these Hindu people and their culture continue to flourish to this day. When we speak of the Champa people, it is not a trek through history; we are speaking of a living culture with roots going back thousands of years. Along with the Balinese Hindus, the Cham Balamon represent the only remaining non-Indic populations of indigenous Hindus surviving today.
Inrasara is a Cham Balamon leader, scholar, author and elder. He has written many books and is a recognized expert on Cham culture.
What is your most important festival? It could be said it is our New Year, called Rija Nagar, or “the nation’s festival.” It is most important since it has common value and is celebrated by Ahier (Hindus) and Awal (Muslims), together with its very beautiful and philosophical dances.
What connections do your people have with India, past and present? Our kingdom at its very early stage, 192 CE, adopted Hinduism as its religion and had the trading connection ever since. But about a thousand years later, as the merchants stopped coming to Southeast Asia, its influence fell, replaced by the growing power of Islam. The Indian researchers and friends who have come to Phanrang to see the culture have said much Indian influence can still be seen today, especially in some of the beliefs and the Hindu temples.
Do people still worship at the ancient Hindu temples? Yes, we have four temples that are still worshiped in nowadays: Po Inu Nugar, Po Rome, Po Klaung Girai and Po Dam. As for My Son heritage, we have lost our land and so have not reached there since long ago, but that is still the holy ground that people would love to visit.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Cham people? Keeping our culture, language and traditions alive is generally the challenge from hundreds years ago, as the influence from Vietnam grows greater. Now not many young people know how to read or speak properly, or clearly understand our beliefs.
Is the Balamon religion Hinduism? Yes, we can say so.
Who is your favorite God and why? For our forefathers and ourselves it is Siva, the true holy sage, the destroyer of untruths who enlightens all followers.
What is the long-term vision for your people? As long as the language and culture are alive rather than vanishing, we shall be able to play a part in building a beautiful and colorful world. (source)