That Luang - the majestic construction in the heart of Vientiane

Being the national symbol of Laos as well as the most sacred monument in this country, That Luang (the Great Stupa) which is a spectacular religious construction will surely blow your mind away. If you like to explore the spiritual and religious life of Laos people, That Luong is a must – visit destination.

What is That Luang?

Located in the centre of Vientiane, That Luong is also known as  Pha Chedi Lokajulamani which can be translated into “World Precious Sacred Stupa”. That Luang is thought to be established initially in the 3rd century BC as a house to enshrine the breastbone of the Lord Buddha that was brought to Laos by an Indian monk with the purpose of spread Buddhism out in Laos. A stupa was built at the position where That Luang is situated nowadays. Since then, the stupa has undergone several restorations. However, it was rebuilt in the 16th century by King Setthathirat after this King turned Vientiane into the new capital of Lan Xang Kingdom but the old stupa still remained. During the invasion in the 18th and 19th centuries, That Luang was greatly destroyed and looted by the Burmese, Siamese and Chinese. It was left abandoned until the French colonist period. The French worked to reconstruct this place and the restoration was completed in 1900. In 1930, That Luang was restored again to its original architecture with the help of the French.

That Luang stupa

That Luang stupa

What to do?

Contemplate a monumental religious construction

That Luang is designed in Lao architectural style with the influences of Buddhist beliefs and characteristics which are indicated finely-gilded, red-lacquer doors, pointed lesser stupas, many images of Buddha, pretty flower and animal. Being hemmed by cloister walls with tiny windows, That Luang has several internal galleries, in which saves Laos and Khmer statues, a lot of them are badly damaged; some steles that are inscribed and some sculpturing. In the center, there is a statue of  King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer dynasty.

Being gold-covered, the main stupa consists of three levels. Hundreds of sema stone are placed on the top of the first level wall to highlight the sacred section. There is a prayer gate named Haw Wai that is open with a double roof carrying a picture of Buddha in the center of each side of the wall. Naga snakes are present at the stair to this area in order to play a protective role. On top of the wall that marks the second level, there are hundreds of sema stones and small stupas. The arched gate leads to the third level. The upper part of the tower has a shape of lotus bud with several tiered parasols.

There are some temples surrounding the stupa and Buddhist structures. The elegant statue of King Setthathirat stands in the front of the main entrance to That Luang. When the stupa was reconstructed in the 16th century, one temple was built on each side of the stupa. Nowadays there are only two of them remaining. That are Wat That Luang Tai that is a tiered-roof building in the South and  Wat That Luang Neua where the supreme patriarch of Laos Buddhism live.

The Hor Dhammasabha convention hall which was established in the celebrations of the 450th anniversary the Vientiane city is used for Buddhist meetings and ceremonies. This pink red building is designed beautifully with intricate patterns and details. Moreover, on the ground, there are also the bell tower, various stupas, and a golden statue of reclining Buddhist.

The statue of reclining Buddha

The statue of reclining Buddha

Take part in That Luang festival

That Luang festival which is the most important Buddhist ceremony in Laos is held in the early November for three days and three nights. The festival attracts the attendance of a large crowd of Buddhism followers and tourists from both Laos and neighboring nations. Many Lao who live oversea also come back to their country to take part in this major festival. The festival begins with a colorful candlelight “wax castle” procession. The wax castle is actually the trees that are tall, yellow, stuck with wax petals and decorated with golden yellow papers and kip notes. The groups will band and parade around the main hall of worship to show honor to the Vientiane pillar. Moreover, when reaching the stupa, followers will be led by monks from That the stupa. During this time, participators sit silently and listen to the prayers. Everyone also tries to come to the inside stupa to offer monks alms, burn light or Luang and slowly walk around it three times chanting the ancient teachings of Buddha.

The next activity is almsgiving procession. In the following morning, a large crowd will gather at That Luang to give alms to hundreds of monks and to pay homage to incense and pray for luck. In the afternoon, everyone will gather to play tikhy (one kind of Laos hockey). The festival comes to the end when under the full moon, people band around the stupa to light the candle for the last time. In recent years, the firework is displayed to highlight the end of the ceremony.

That Luang festival

That Luang festival (via flickr.com)

The That Luang reflects the diverse religious spiritual life of Lao people. Once you have visited That Luang or joined That Luang festival, it will surely leave a strong impression on you.  

“Why don’t you stand up and take your backpack to visit Asia right now? Do not forget to take tour Southeast asia as well as Laos tour package. Lao is waiting for you!  Share the post if you find it useful. Have a nice trip!

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