They shared with us remarkable stories about the history of the treasures at the Sop and Krayo temples.
Part 1: Uncover the hidden treasures
Part 2: Journey to the two ancient temples
Early next morning, we followed a local policeman named Za Hien and the village shaman Za Tang to the Sop Temple. After crossing a small field and hiking through a kilometer of forest track, we arrived at the temple.
The Sop Temple was located on a hillside, surrounded by dense trees. It was built with small, round-shaped timber, covered with thatch, and looked like a simple cottage.
There were two sections in the temple, with an attic on either side. The left attic was for worshiping gods and the right one for goddesses. In the central area, ritual instruments were displayed on a thin wooden plank bed.
After a ceremony, shaman Za Tang pulled out a bamboo basket from under the bed and showed us the precious things treasured in this temple.
We could see two large shallow black bronze bowls to offer consecrated water to gods in ceremonies, and 15 other pottery and porcelain objects, with blue glazed patterns and decorations. Amongst them were a bowl ornamented with Chinese characters which seemed to form a poem, and a large white dish with glazed blue patterns.
Za Tang said that there used to be golden and silver wares and silk clothing among the Cham King’s properties. Every year shamans put on these gowns during the lunar December ceremonies, and then carefully put them back into the storage. Now that the garments have gone missing, they have had to buy other Cham dresses for the ceremonies.
The Sop Temple had been moved five times around the area before it was relocated in its present location, in accordance with the custom of moving the temple every fifty years.
In 1960, a temple with brick walls and metal-sheet roof was built three kilometers from Da Loan, by the former Saigon government. But then in late 1968, Division 23 of Saigon Army raided and robbed the temple’s precious assets and then destroyed it with petrol bombs. After this, local people collected the remaining items and built another temple.
We were told to prepare goats and chickens as offerings to the gods before being allowed to see the treasure.
The next morning, after presenting them with the offerings, we were led to the temple, a simple construction of wood, bamboo and thatch.
The temple has two houses. The big one was approximately 24 square meters in area, with nine round pillars. All of its sides were created from bamboo wattle, except for the west wooden side where the altar was arranged.
Next to the big house was a smaller one standing on stilts, with eight round wooden pillars, consisting of two sections, each of which contained a trunk of the King and Queen’s belongings. A number of firearms were also arranged on the wooden floor.
Excavation is made on an area which was formerly the foundation of a temple
The Krayo Temple was dedicated to worshiping Cham King Poklongkahul and Queen Poklongnaiqua. As shaman Za Theng and the local people recalled, the temple used to be filled with silver wares and royal garments. There used to be, they said, three-layered golden Klon boxes (or cremation urns) descending in size that contained the ash and remaining frontal bones of the King and Queen.
Amongst the things they said to have been there were also 500 bowls and four silver ceremonial trays, a golden crown, four trunks of garments fringed with gold and 52 guns and rifles. Regretfully, most of these precious objects had been lost, especially during the attacks by Saigon soldiers and airplanes in 1968 and 1969.
After the ceremony, we checked the objects and could make a list of 18 iron barrel parts of what were once guns and rifles, a crushed silver vase, and five white-glazed bowls with blue drawings. We paid special attention to a small white-glazed bowl with lotus petal patterns and a three-claw dragon in the center.
We were told that the old bombed temple was not far from the present one and suggested Za Hien and some men lead us to the vestige. After cutting through the forest for about three kilometers to the west, we arrived at the site. There we found remains a damaged cement floor, around six meters in length and a meter in width. All the walls had collapsed and wild plants and shrubs had taken over.
In front of the temple was a 2.5-meter-long cistern. Walking around the floor, we found a small bronze bell finely carved with the Chinese character “Longevity” among the debris and wild bushes.
Before 1930, Mrs. Ma Them, a descendant of the Cham Kings in Binh Thuan, often brought offerings to this temple and performed the ceremony. But her children must have forgotten the way to this remote mountainous village. Standing amid the ruins of an old temple by the forest, we could not but feel overwhelmed by a sense of sadness and nostalgia.
Although most of the Cham King’s treasures have been lost, the Krayo and Sopmadronhay temples are still honored by the Churu. These sincere, warm-hearted people are still living up to the entrustment of the Cham King. The worship of the King is solemnly performed every year, presenting evidence of a long lasting friendship that the Cham and Churu people had once built up in the time of perils.