This edited article is republished from India Currents an independent media company devoted to the exploration of the heritage and culture of India as it exists in the United States. Through its print and digital platforms, it covers a wide range of subjects—arts, film, literature, travel, food, healthy living, business—that are of interest to Indian-Americans and Indophiles.
Nghia opened his phone and flashed the picture of his bride to me. She was still in Vietnam waiting for her visa to come through. They got married in December. It was the day of India Currents' team meeting and we were celebrating Nghia’s new marital status. Our [India Currents] graphic designer was in love. He met his bride on a previous visit to Vietnam. She was a friend of his cousin’s. As he played with the Playmemories photo app on his iphone and we were all deciding whether to get L2 or L3 meal I scrolled through the photos of the wedding.
Stop! What was this? What are in these plates covered with red velvet cloths? They reminded me of Indian weddings where the gifts exchanged between the bride’s and groom’s families are placed in similar platters.
Beetel nut leaves? I got curious. Who officiates at the wedding? A muslim priest? A Christian priest? “No,” said Nghia “the parents and the bridal couple stand in front of pictures of their ancestors and take their blessings. That’s all.”
"Hmmmm", I said, "You are a Hindu." Nghia was confused.
We crunched our way through the sweet tangy papaya salad, which had a few missing peanuts.
It seemed to me that an immigrant community with no priest decided to solemnize weddings by seeking the blessings of their forefathers. The custom, I thought, has survived through centuries.
"Come to think of it," said Nghia, "many people told my grandmother she looked Indian."
I decided to find out about the Hindus of Vietnam. The Indian legends in Sanskrit had long used the terms "suvarnadvipa" "the island of gold" and "suvarnabhumi" "lands of gold" in reference to Southeast Asia. The merchants from the kingdoms of South India had set sail for this land. In Vietnam the first settlement of importance was Ha-tien on the gulf of Siam. My preliminary research brought up an article in Times of India. It was a report filed during the Vietnamese new year.
“ A flood of Vietnamese are flooding a Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh City during the 7-day Tet festival that began last Friday, according to Indian residents of the city and local Vietnamese. More than 50,000 people prayed at the Mariammam Temple through the day and the entire night during the Vietnamese New Year on Sunday."
"Wow!" I thought, this is present day Vietnam.
"The local Vietnamese believe that worshiping at this temple during the New Year festival will bring good luck," said Atul Kumar, a businessmen who has been in HCMC since the 1980s...There was a scramble of people offering 'prasad' as the main door of the sanctum sanctorum opened last midnight. There were several thousand Vietnamese... Local Vietnamese are making oaths and offering 'prasad' in the belief that Hindu gods are generous about granting the wishes of worshippers. Food offerings are being made to idols of several gods and goddesses including Lakshmi, Muruga and Ganesha besides the main idol of goddess Mariammam.
This is among the three Hindu temples in Vietnam's biggest city, which has less than 1,000 resident Indians. The Mariammam temple draws the maximum number of local worshippers....Vietnamese worshipers applied red vermilion on their foreheads after making offerings of flowers, coconuts, betel leaf, dried rice and candles to the different gods at the Mariammam temple." The Times of India report made interesting reading.
Nghia’s bride’s family, though now settled in South Vietnam, are originally from North Vietnam.
“The exact number of Tamil Hindus in Vietnam are not published in Government census, but there are estimated to be at least 50,000 Balamon Hindus, with another 4,000 Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City," said Wikipedia.
The term Balamon is considered to have been derived from the term Brahmin. "Another study suggests that 70% are considered to descend from the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste, pronounced in Cham as "Satrias". Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces are where most of the Cham ethnic group (~65%) in Vietnam reside according to the last population census. Cham Balamon in Ninh Thuan numbered 32,000 in 2002 inhabiting 15 of 22 Cham villages. 60% of Chams in Vietnam are Hindus the others converted to Islam."
Southeast Asia was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga, as well as from the kingdoms of South India.
"No," said Nghia, "the Champa are different people. They were a separate kingdom that later joined Vietnam. They are more Indonesian..."
I decided to google Champa and the Archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam) by Andrew David Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese to find out more.
(Temple images are from Wikipedia)
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Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents. She is an award winning author, chef, debate coach, mom and driver. The last two awards were specially awarded by two long standing employers, her sons..