Visitors amaze with centuries old artefacts of That Luang

Visitors come to That Luang in droves to pay their respects to the Grand Stupa and ponder over the ancient artefacts on display. Visitors to Vientiane almost always make time to visit the stupa, for a few hours or even longer. Tourists to That Luang usually stay there for some time, taking pictures of the various buildings surrounding the Grand Stupa, such as the Hor Thammasapha, Vat That Luang- Tai and Neua, and the Naga’s house. The area around That Luang is spacious and pleasant, and affords tourists fine views of all the picturesque structures.

The area has benefited from the government’s expansion of the surrounds, and the site now extends over 12 hectares. There are new parks, roads and entrance ways, with some gates still under construction. A new road has been built from the That Luang Market side, and a new fence has been erected.

The That Luang Festival takes place late this month, and is a huge event of national importance. The new 12-hectare site will make this year’s festival even more special and will undoubtedly attract even more visitors than usual. Men and women wear modest clothing when visiting this revered place, and women will always dress in a long skirt (sinh) when they come to worship at the Grand Stupa.

For those who arrive wearing trousers, skirts are available for hire. Most importantly, all worshipers must take off their shoes. In another sign of respect, Lao people also wear a sash when entering a temple or stupa, and sit cross-legged on the ground.

That Luang stupa was originally built during the ancient Khmer civilisation, when Vientiane was inhabited by people known as the ‘Cham’. Historians believe the structure was originally a foursided stone obelisk.

The book titled “That Luang Viengchanh”, published by Kavin in 1999, says the stupa was built as a place for people to worship and pray to idols. The structure was renovated during the reign of King Xaysetthathirath in the 16th century when the original building was covered over with a bigger stupa. From then on the monument took the name That Luang or Grand Stupa.

The Cham period was the second wave of Buddhism in Laos. Under the patronage of Emperor Ashokka of India, the venerable monks Sona and Outala and five scholars brought a fragment of what was believed to be a piece of the pelvic bone of Lord Buddha to Vientiane in 218 BC, where it was kept in the obelisk at Phou Luang hill.

The ruler of Vientiane at that time, Lord Chanthabouly Phasitthisack, built a stupa over the obelisk in 236 BC. The holy site was then named Pha Chedi Lokachulamany.