The Po Klong Garai Cham tower complex in Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan is the most beautiful and best-preserved Cham tower complex in Vietnam. Just 7km from Phan Rang town, the Po Klong Garai towers loom on a dry hillside. Built in the 13th century in honor of King Po Klong Garai, the towers play an important role in Cham culture.
King Po Klong Garai is remembered for his contributions to agricultural development and irrigation. According to legend, the king was an orphaned cowherd who won the support of the Dragon God and became a talented and highly moral king who helped to develop and protect the Cham kingdom. The king held a sacred tower building contest with the goal of promoting peace and protecting the kingdom from Khmer invasions (Cambodia). The result was this architectural masterpiece. In the mind of the Cham people, after his death the king became a sacred deity who protects the living.
Located on a hill over 100m high, the compound initially consisted of one main tower and five surrounding ones. Today, only three towers remain, the largest standing 20.5m high, the Fire Tower 9.13m high and the Gate Tower 5.65m high. Po Klong Garai features distinctive Cham architecture. The deity honored here is Mukha Linga who bears the honorable face of King Po Klong Garai, who is also a subject of worship in the religious rituals of Cham people. The Po Klong Garai towers remain central to the religion of local Cham people. Cham people still attend festivals at this compound to pray for good luck.
Arched gates, pointy towers and decorative bas-reliefs made of Cham bricks have withstood the ravages of time. A nearly solid block of bricks, the towers’ interior spaces are just large enough for primary rituals. In front of the entrance gate of the main tower rests a Siva statue. Smaller towers rise in great symmetrical pairs to narrow towards the top, creating an ascending shape that is both solemn and impressive. All facets of the tower are decorated with patterns and sculptures inspired by ancient Cham culture and Vietnamese culture. Images of humans, dragon tails and sacred bulls are familiar Cham motifs. The ancient Cham craftsmen who made these sculptures were highly skilled and versatile. The towers appear both tough and rugged, yet feature sinuous and soft carvings. They are made entirely of bricks, their dark red color leaving a profound impression on visitors. To this day, researchers are still debating how the Cham made their bricks. Nobody is sure if the bricks were baked or unbaked. Yet however they were made, despite this regions harsh weather, they have withstood the ravages of time.
The standing towers remain firm and the bricks tightly stacked. The type of mortar that the Chams used, or whether they even used mortar, remains a topic of debate. What is certain is that the sophisticated techniques of the ancient Cham builders have allowed these towers to remain as silent symbols of Cham culture.