Travel Asia – The colorful cultures

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On this special occasion, Asian museologists traveled to Hanoi for the fourth annual meeting of the Asian National Museum Association. Vietnam’s National Museum of History (*) has organized a display of antiques from member countries. This interesting exhibition runs until January 2014.

Few people know that Vietnam’s National Museum of History holds many precious objects from Vietnam and neighboring nations. Antiques from abroad were exchanged or presented as gifts to the Nguyen Dynasty. Some of them were collected as far back as when the museum still held the French title, École Franҫaise d’Extrême-Orient. Therefore, when viewing the Vietnamese treasury of antiques, foreign delegates admit that many precious objects are not stored in their countries, but only found here in Vietnam.

The famous Ganges River’s civilization created many famous works representing Buddhism and Hinduism, two of the four largest religions of this Southern Asian country. These have also been two of the most predominant religions around the world for more than 2000 years. Here, there is a model of an ancient tower used to worship the Buddha which dates back to about 900 years ago. The tower features 12 floors made of stone with images of Buddha at different angles. The beauty of Buddha is also manifested in a stone relievo of Guan Yin sitting on Buddha’s throne from the 10th century. The beliefs associated with the image of Guan Yin in Indian are different to that of Vietnamese people. The Indian Guan Yin is like an Apsara dancer with a naked chest and jewellery on its wrists, biceps, ankles and neck. The Indian Guan Yin is simpler and plainer than the strict appearance of the Guan Yin in Vietnamese pagodas.

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A bronze statue of Bodhisattva Cundi, dated from the 17th – 18th century, with eight hands on her body, reminds us of the Buddha statue in But Thap pagoda (Bac Ninh, Vietnam). But, there is a difference, in that these statues in India portray a bare-chested woman. It could be said that the art of Buddhism, in this religious land, is mixed with the eternal beauty of the human body. From another point of view, the bronze statue of Shiva, a typical statue of Hinduism, features two sides: a man on one side and a woman on the other side, holding a staff of a bonze. Shiva also has a noticeably strong looking body. This is a famous Goddess who represents both destruction and creation.

The Chinese have one of the world’s few civilizations with cultural messengers, which are represented on a colorful pottery jar of Yangshao culture, dating back about 5000 years. China has a long tradition of making ceramics that continued well after ceramic making had developed to its pinnacle. The word “china” was derived from the way in which Western people commonly referred to Chinese potteries. At the exhibition, guests also have a chance to see the china jar of the Jiajing and Ming dynasties. The jar is painted in nearly ten fascinating colors and skillfully decorated with images of flying dragons, flowers and leaves.

Cambodia also contributes to the exhibition with some antiques symbolizing Buddhism and Hinduism. They include a stone statue of a Goddess from the 12th – 13th century, or the Angkor period, and a wooden statue of the artist, who played the role of “Thunder God Dancing”. Other royal objects include a silver bowl with black, gilded patterns and images of a dancer, Kinari, a dragon and pearl-inlaid wooden boxes.

An object representing Indonesia is a colorful, leather puppet from the Wayang art of puppetry. Puppets were used to tell legends and myths of Indonesia for thousands of years.

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Japanese culture also appears in the exhibition, with a plate from the Edo Dynasty in the 19th century. In addition, a bronze statue of Guan Yin Cundi of Mingzhi Tianhuang Dynasty, with 16 arms on the Buddha’s throne is also displayed. This image of Guan Yin Cundi manifests a strong cultural exchange of Buddhism amongst countries. It seems that Buddhism has linked many colors of Asia through the pictographic languages found within Buddha’s statues.

The ancient culture of Korea shares some common features with that of Vietnam. It is shown in tube-tiles, decorated with patterns, as seen in those of the Imperial Palace and on ancient bowls and plates. In addition, other pieces, such as a blue-flowered pottery jar decorated with images of dragons, are similar to the blue pottery found in Chu Dau in the Vietnamese, Le Dynasty.

Some of Laos’ ancient culture is represented through the brass statues of Buddha Sakyamuni. This Statue has local, cultural characteristics, such as a firm body and long arms. In addition, visitors can also view wooden relievo of Apsara standing on the Buddha’s throne and holding a large flower. This piece is from the 19th century.

A representation of Myanmar’s culture is seen in a wooden statue painted in red lacquer and sculpted into the Guardian Angel Nath and also, a bronze statue of Vishnu riding the sacred Garuda bird in the 19th century. Another piece that attracts most audiences, is a gilded wooden statue inlaid with gems representing Buddha Sakyamuni in the Nirvana.

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The Kingdom of Thailand is displayed with a colored pottery jar of Ban Chieng, dated 2,500 years ago, a blue-flowered kendy pot or colorful bowl. In particular, the statue of Shiva dances on the sacred ox Nandin. This statue is made of brass and features three eyes and 10 arms holding weapons.

Finally, Vietnam also displays many important objects in the exhibition such as Dong Son bronze drum, which is one of Vietnam’s largest and features images of flying birds, dancing humans and statues of toads. The bronze drum is a typical object of Vietnamese wet-rice civilization. Some other popular objects are seen such as, the sandstone statue of Shiva from the Cham culture in the 12th century, the gilded wooden statue of Bodhidharma in the 18th century and some other royal objects from the Nguyen Dynasty.

As the name of the exhibition implicates, the cultural colors of Asia are diversified, exchanged, linked and united. They are manifested in religious statues, pottery and brass objects. Some artistic objects portray the same image of Buddha, but also include distinctive features from each region. In conclusion, from this exhibition, we can see that Asia is an extremely culturally enriched part of the world.

 

Text and photos: Prof. Assoc. Trinh Sinh

 

Further information:

Vietnam National Museum of History

1 Trang Tien, 25 Tong Dan, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi