Homage to a goddess

VIETNAM - Despite raids launched by pirates, the Po Nagar temple complex remains robust.

Po Nagar - or Thap Ba as locals call it - stands on a granite knoll just outside the beach town of Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam.

Although I read of a tourist who once hopped in a taxi whose driver did not know of the landmark, and ended up taking her to a restaurant with that name, Po Nagar is easy to find.

The drive from downtown Nha Trang takes just 10 minutes.

Described by the Rough Guide as "Nha Trang's most gripping attraction", the destination has also been called "the soul of the Cham", in a nod to the people who came from India and stayed until the present day.

The complex is devoted to Yan Po Nagar: the Goddess Mother of the Kingdom, who came to be identified with various Hindu goddesses including Uma, the wife of bigwig god Shiva.

According to legend, Lady Po Nagar - or Leiou Ye - founded the Hindu Cham nation, which ran most of central and southern Vietnam from the 8th-19th century.

From peasant stock, Lady Po Nagar consorted with spirits and could be difficult.

Legend says that her Chinese crown prince husband became too controlling for her taste, so the woodcutter's daughter did a disappearing act.

Then her ally, the Jade Emperor who ruled heaven and earth, waded in, turning the prince and his fleet into stone.

Despite that ugly incident, Lady Po Nagar is credited as a positive influence - as the guru pioneer of rice farming and weaving techniques, which may explain the presence of a Po Nagar temple complex working loom or two, run by modern Chams in spiffy ceremonial costume.

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