Cutural researcher and photographer Nguyen Van Ku has authored and co-authored several interesting books about Vietnam’s diverse cultures, including ones about the Chams, the Central Highland, and about pagodas in Southern Vietnam. Heritage met the Mr. Nguyen Van Ku to discuss his passion for preserving Vietnam’s cultural heritage
Heritage: You have written many books about Cham culture. What draws you to this subject?
Mr. NVK: I got my first impression of Cham culture nearly 40 years ago when I visited the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang. I was mesmerized by the carvings of Shiva and Uma and the dancers’ pedestal of Tra Kieu. I strongly admire the Cham civilization with its unique and flourishing culture as seen through many temples, palaces, sculptures, antique steles, etc.
exhibits in museum of cham sculpture
Heritage: Your photo book “Cham Cultural Herritage” was voted the best multilingual book by the Vietnam Book of Records. Why did you decide to republish the 3rd edition in the ancient language of the Chams and Cham Latin?
Mr. NVK: The book was published in five languages, including Vietnamese, traditional Cham, Cham Latin, English and French with an aim to widely introduce the cultural values of the Cham civilization to audiences all over the world. Most importantly, I wanted to present this book as a gift to the Cham people because they are the descendants of the owners of this valuable cultural heritage. I was thrilled to receive a lot of positive feedback from the Cham community. The book creates a path for the young generation to return to their previous era of culture, which deserves its own identity in the past, present and future. I hope that by reading this book in the ancient language of the Cham people, the Cham elders will have the opportunity to teach the young generations about this language as well as about Cham culture.
Discover the spectacular nature place at the central region of Vietnam
Heritage: You have also co-authored many books about Vietnamese pagodas and temples. Why are you passionate about this subject?
Mr. NVK: Communal houses and pagodas play a critical role in the cultural life of the community. These are cultural museums bequeathed by history, which stand for local beliefs and as places for spiritual activities such as traditional festivals and rituals. I have traveled a lot and visited many communal houses and temples all over the country. My desire is to preserve the unique culture of Vietnamese pagodas in a systematic manner. The books I co-authored contain the most succinct information and the most impressive images of 108 communal houses and 122 temples in Vietnam. The 5th edition of the book “Vietnamese Pagodas” introduces typical temples in Vietnam from the beginning of the first millennium AD, through the Dinh, Le, Ly, Tran and Nguyen Dynasties to the present and also recently reconstructed and newly built temples such as Non Temple in Hanoi, Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Thanh Long Pagoda in Binh Phuoc, etc. The book also illustrates temples on the Spratly Islands, shedding light on the traditional beliefs of Vietnamese people in remote areas, and sending a passionate message to the people living there, who are dedicating their lives to the cause of national defense.
Festival at the communal house of central highland
Heritage: Your journey is ongoing. What are your plans?
Mr. NVK: I am happy to have great opportunities to travel and visit many places. Luckily, I am very healthy and travel is good for one’s health. By my side there are always teachers and friends who are great authorities in culture, history and archeology, such as Professor Pham Huy Thong, Professor Ha Van Tan, Historian Le Van Lan, Associate professor Ngo Van Doanh, Dr. Luu Hung, etc. My trips bring me great opportunities to search for information and take documentary photos in an attempt to preserve invaluable national cultural values. I have finished a manuscript of the third edition of “Vietnamese Communal Houses”. I also plan to publish the sixth edition of “Vietnamese Pagodas” including Vietnamese pagodas overseas.
The ancient Cham civilization, the culture of the Central Highlands, and Vietnamese communal houses and pagodas bring me endless inspiration. I am always looking for additional information so that audiences have the chance to keep reading.
Heritage: Thanks and all the best.
Two recent tourist attractions offer visitors a taste of life in the ancient imperial capital of Hue
Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion (the name means “Reign of Peace Worldwide”) was constructed in 1923 under the rule of Emperor Khai Dinh (1916-) 925), meant to commemorate his 40th birthday. The pavilion was built on the former foundation of an 1804 temple named Tu Thong which had served as an outpost for Imperial City guards. After its construction, Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion was dedicated to the emperor and his royals for relaxation and to princes and princesses for daily studies during the last years of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945)
The two-story Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion was designed in a colonial style. From the second floor, visitors can take a panoramic view of the majestic landscape of ponds, green trees and undulating roofs of the Imperial City and observe the peaceful everyday life inside the Forbidden City. It was rumored that Emperor Thieu Tri enjoyed the sight of his entire royal palaces from this pavilion, which inspired him to write his “Ten sights of the palaces” poems. Each of these poems was illustrated and carved on woodblock prints, then sent to China to be etched on mirrors.
For a long time Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion had fallen into ruin, but in 2010, the site was restored to its original glory. Today, the Pavilion has become the site of imperial-style cultural events with a strong contemporary touch. Audiences can enjoy improvised versions of Hue chamber music, displays of Hue Tuong masks or Tru singing of old Thang Long.
Le Quy Duong, one of Vietnam’s leading directors, has worked in partnership with the Center for Preservation of Hue Former Citadel to restore and develop events for Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion and Long Quan royal boat. He said in the near future his company would host an amateur music night in Hue’s former citadel, while Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion will be utilized by artists and scholars to exchange ideas and new research about Hue. In the future, several UNESCO-recognized genres, such as Noh theater of Japan, traditional dances of India and the culture of Australian aboriginals will also be featured at the site.
Photo by fadetotoday
Along with Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion, the Long Quan royal boat at the Greeting Temple is a unique location for concerts and a way to enjoy and admire the Perfume River at sunset. This luxurious craft was modeled after Te Thong royal boats of the Nguyen Dynasty. It measures 30 meters long and can accommodate 100 guests. Traveling along the tranquil Perfume River, visitors will pass Linh Mu Pagoda, Ngoc Tran Mount and Hon Chen Temple while hearing stories of ancient royal life before joining a “Royal Banquet” that is hosted right on board.
Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion and Long Quan royal boat are helping to diversify the tourist attractions on offer in Hue. These two sites will help preserve and promote cultural values of Hue while promising to leave a strong impression on both domestic and foreign visitors to the old imperial capital.