King from Vietnam to Mahabalipuram

King from Vietnam to Mahabalipuram
The winds were favorable as the royal junk ships set sail from the port of Van Don in northern Vietnam, carrying King Che Bong Nga and his entourage. They were embarked on a journey to the distant shores of southern India, having heard tales of the magnificent temples and monuments there.

Through the South China Sea
After several days traversing the South China Sea, the flotilla approached the Strait of Malacca. The crews grew tense, as these waters were notorious for pirates. However, they passed through without incident into the Andaman Sea beyond. The king marveled at the shimmering turquoise waters and remote jungle-clad islands under swaying palms.

Arrival in India
Eventually, the choreographed rowing of a hundred oarsmen brought them to the Coromandel Coast of southern India. The local Pallava rulers warmly welcomed the Vietnamese king and his party. They were fascinated by the exotic foreign visitors wearing flowing silk robes and recounting stories of their spice-rich homeland.

Visiting the Monuments of Mamallapuram

King Che Bong Nga’s main purpose was to visit the stone-carved monuments of Mamallapuram, the seaport capital of the Pallava Dynasty. Escorted by a procession of royal elephants, he made his way down the coast to Mahabalipuram, as the city was also known. The skill of local sculptors who had chiseled ornate rock temples from the hillsides impressed the king greatly.
Giant stone rathas carved in the shape of wooden chariots particularly caught his attention. He marveled at the architectural details and figurines adorning the facades. In the fading light of dusk, the monolithic temples emanated a warm, orange glow like wood that had weathered through centuries.
Most intriguing were the enormous bas-reliefs lining open-air rock walls, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Sculpted images of deities, ornately dressed royalty, the heavens and the underworld unfurled before the king’s eyes. He watched in awe as craftsmen chiseled new panels with hammer and chisel, their harsh strikes against stone echoing in the air.

A Cosmopolitan Seaport
As he toured the sites, King Che Bong Nga noticed Chinese sails in the harbor, hinting at how cosmopolitan Mamallapuram had become. Traders, emissaries, monks, missionaries, and adventurers converged here from lands near and far. Contacts established in Mahabalipuram would ripple back along trade routes reaching deep into Asia’s hinterland.

Windswept Beaches
Beyond the monuments and bustling bazaars, the king found reprieve wandering the windswept beaches south of town. Here, fishermen still launched their catamarans into the surf as they had for centuries. At dusk they would return, silhouetted against the glowing vermillion skies, with their catch piled high atop handwoven nets.

A Commemorative Relief
Before returning to Vietnam, Che Bong Nga ordered a commemorative rock relief to be carved into a seaside hill. It depicted the long voyage from his kingdom to southern India in stonemason style. The detailed granite carving remains visible in Mahabalipuram to this day, testifying to an adventurous early crossing of cultures between two great Asian civilizations.

A Lasting Impression

King Che Bong Nga returned to Vietnam deeply impressed by the architectural and artistic grandeur he witnessed in Mamallapuram. He carried back vivid memories of magnificent stone temples glowing in the dusk light, their sculpted façades narrating ancient myths. The master craftsmanship of local artisans, who could conjure such ornate structures out of lifeless rock, left a deep impression.
The king would later patronize Vietnamese scholars to travel to the Tamil kingdoms and bring back knowledge of Pallava architecture and sculpture. This cross-pollination of ideas between two flourishing cultures would influence temple building traditions in the Vietnamese kingdom for generations to come. The legacy of the king’s pivotal journey to southern India lived on.

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