Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ho Chi Minh Complex: Where hero worship and art meet

The Ho Chi Minh (HCM) Complex lies alongside Ba Dinh Square. In 1945, President Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence here at this humongous square. It is flanked by the Assembly Hall on one side and the HCM Mausoleum on the other.

The new Assembly Hall
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum
The HCM Complex consists of the Presidential Palace, HCM's House on Stilts, the HCM Mausoleum and the HCM Museum. There's also a pagoda - One Pillar Pagoda - within the complex. 

The HCM Mausoleum overlooks Ba Dinh Square and houses the embalmed body of HCM. It is an impressive collonaded monument in grey marble and granite designed to reflect the stature of the renowned statesman resting here. At the time I visited the complex, the mausoleum was closed for maintenance so I missed seeing it from the inside. 

The Presidential Palace was built by the French in the early 1900s for the the Governor of Indochina. As a symbolic gesture, HCM refused to live in the palace when he became president of independent Vietnam. The palace itself is out of bounds for visitors though one can tour the grounds which are lush green, calm and peaceful. 

A view of the Presidential Palace from the outside
A smaller, more traditional wooden home was built for him on the grounds of the Presidential Palace - today known as HCM's House on Stilts. The house is surrounded by fruit trees, bamboo, carp ponds and smaller buildings which were used as his residence, offices, meeting rooms and garages.

Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts with the bedroom on the first floor
and a meeting space on the ground floor
The large carp pond within the premises
Roots of the cypress tree grow out of the water creating
interesting patterns
Other buildings housing HCM's residential and official areas
HCM's garage with his cars. Mainly of Soviet make.

The One Pillar Pagoda was first built in 1049 AD in the middle of a lotus pond based on a dream the then king had. He dreamt that a celestial being handed him a son while seated on a lotus flower. The king did have a son later and he built the pagoda in gratitude. It was built on top of a single pillar signifying the lotus stem and the pagoda itself as the flower. The original pagoda was destroyed by the French during the Indochina War. It was rebuilt later in its current form. In summer the pond is supposed to be covered with lotus blossoms. The pagoda is very popular and has tourists and pilgrims visiting it all year around. Due to the excessive crowds the day I visited, I didn't climb up to see the main shrine.

The area had some construction going on and at one end in a makeshift (tin sheets as walls and roof) set-up there was an elaborate shrine. No information indicated why this shrine was placed here.

The HCM Museum is  dedicated to the Vietnamese people's struggles, the revolution and to HCM's ideology. The exhibits are objects and photographs from real life as well as artistic renditions of the revolution and socialist ideology. The museum was conceptualised in the 1970s with the support of the erstwhile Soviet Union which gives you an idea why the exhibits are the way they are. It's unique, surreal and something else, altogether. Even if you don't normally like museums, you will enjoy this one. :)

Lotus iconography at the entrance
The impressive lobby on the upper floor
The larger than life sculpture of HCM

Metallic sculpture of a lotus pond signifies the flower's
importance in Vietnam

Another view of the lobby. In the foreground in white 
is an art installation.

Note: The lotus is Vietnam's national flower. It is considered auspicious and symbolises purity. The Vietnamese have special regard for it as it grows in the mud but is untainted by the dirt. The flower can be seen in iconography everywhere, as you must have realised from the photographs above. You can also see it sold at florists and outside places of worship. In summer, the ponds and lakes across Vietnam are supposed to be in full bloom and an attraction in themselves.

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