The earliest Indic-influenced art in Southeast Asia is represented in this early sixth-century sandstone relief of a yaksha, or nature spirit, from central Vietnam. Elements of its form show exposure to India’s Gupta period (roughly 320–550 C.E.) sculpture.
Animism was indigenous to Southeast Asia, so the Indian cosmology that included nature spirits was easily embraced. The yaksha was excavated at the citadel in Tra Kieu. The earliest Indic temple construction in Tra Kieu was on the same site, although only basement platforms from that era survive. The yaksha relief likely adorned one of these platforms and is contemporary with the first recorded Sanskrit and Cham inscriptions in the Cham territories. Cham kingdoms existed in the Mekong Delta for centuries, and many Cham descendants still practice Hinduism today.
The sculptural legacy of nature cults is on view in one of the galleries at the Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.