Understanding the Name of Phỗng Chàm in Vietnamese Language: A Trace on the Spread of Hinduism in Southeast Asian Yakshas

Author: Dinh Hong Hai (National University Hanoi, Vietnam)
Speaker: Dinh Hong Hai
Topic: Semiotics and semiology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Phỗng Chàm (Vietnamese – Champa’s fat deity) constitutes one of the longest mystery narratives in the study of Vietnam. The original source of Phỗng Chàm provides a highly significant question, which emerged strongly in the early 20th century when scholars (Bougier, Jean Yves Claeys, Olov Janse, Le Breton, Y. Laubie) discussed ancient Vietnamese iconography.

The current paper asks several questions, including the following: Does Phỗng Chàm originate from Champa or Đại Việt? To what extent is the name in Vietnamese (Champa’s fat deity) correct? To respond to these questions, this paper traces the spread of Hinduism and Yaksha icons from the Indian culture to the Yaksha in Southeast Asian culture.

The paper discusses that Yaksha represents a benevolent deity, the guardian of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. The deity appears first in Hinduism then influenced on Jainism and Buddhism in India and spreads all over Southeast Asia.

This research aims to classify many kinds of Yaksha in Southeast Asia and the changes of Hindu iconography in this region. Furthermore, the paper bases itself the form of the ancient Yaksha in front of the Mandapa Khmer Hindu temple Banteay Srei in Cambodia so to determine connections with Phỗng Chàm in Vietnam through the language of art.

Keywords: Phỗng Chàm, Deities, Vietnam, Mythology, Etymology