My dear travellers, how are you today? We have reached the end of December, counting the days until the famous New Year’s Eve with the hope that the new year will bring us many beautiful things and moments to remember. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all my readers, the biggest and most joyful holiday – Christmas.
Christmas is a holiday that teaches us special values, where spiritual advancement is to put man first and not things. Holidays teach us that this is the perfect time to forgive, start some new beautiful things, and to come together and help one another.
Since Christmas and New Year’s holidays are a time of giving, I decided to give you something valuable – the knowledge. The saying “knowledge is power” has been said and repeated so many times that we can accurately predict in what situations people will take advantage of this sentence. Man learns while is still alive, and yet we are social beings who are curious and each of us has the will and desire to expand our knowledge in certain areas.
In my previous post you had the opportunity to get know little better with the capital of the smallest country in Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of Laos – Vientiane. You were introduced to the culture and customs, but also learned the reason for my visit to this distant and unusual country. Before I begin today’s post, I would like to thank the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of Laos and Qatar Airways for this exceptional experience.
Last time we started the story of the That Luange – “Great Stupa” and the “Boun That Luang Festival“. Boun Pha That Luang is the most significant religious event in Vientiane as well as in the entire People’s Republic of Lao. It is held for three to seven days during the full moon every 12th lunar month (November, but sometimes it’s the end of October).
The festival begins with a colorful parade of local Lao people with wax candles and flowers (Phasat Pheung), which opens the festival the evening before the official start at Wat Simeuang (Wat Si Muang) Buddhist Temple. The procession continues the following afternoon from Wat Simeuang Temple to Pha That Luang (Great Stupa). People carry flowers, candles, incense and wax castles decorated with flowers and banknotes.
The “wax castles” are not really castles, but a tall decorated yellow “trees”, with wax petals, further decorated with gold papers and banknotes.
During this religious event, people like to wear the best what they have in their wardrobe for this parade, and there is a famous parade of men and women dressed in various Lao costumes with multicolored ethno details, dancing and playing traditional music and songs as they approach the Grand Stupa.
“Wax castles” have been an integral part of the Lao people’s lifestyle for many years, and bringing one of them to the Great Stupa during the That Luang Festival can spiritually contribute to improving the state of mind and body.
As I wrote in a previous post during That Luang Festival, monks and people from across Laos gather to celebrate this holiday with a three-day religious ceremony, followed by week-long festivities, during the day and night as well.
Every morning (especially on the last day of the festival, when these photos you see in this post were made) a large mass of people gather at dawn in the front of That Luang – the “Great Stupa” to give alms to hundreds of monks who come here from all over the country and to worship homage to the Great Stupa. The afternoon is reserved for an esplanade gathering for Ti Khee’s traditional game, played with a ball and a long curved stick, it is look like a game of hockey.
As the Festival approaches to the period of full moon, people from all over Laos will gather around That Luang to join in on the last candle parade. It is a truly amazing event, you will see the procession pictures later in this post.
Many members of the Lao community who are otherwise living abroad return to visit their families in Laos during the That Luang Festival. I would also recommend anyone planning to visit the country to come this time of the year. For those interested in Lao culture, it is a good opportunity to get to know their culture by observing religious events and observing some customs. The weather is also nice and warm, and Vientiane is more lively and colourful at this time of the year.
This holiday brings together all generations from the youngest one who are interested in touching absolutely everything, a little few years older teenagers who came with their friends, to those more mature generations who have been celebrating this great Buddhist holiday for years with great joy in their hearts.
During this whole trip, the time difference of +6 hours was only on my mind, and I kept thinking about what my family is doing in that moment. Specifically, on this last day of the festival, I was thinking: “It is an honor for these people when they can get up at three, four o’clock in the morning and get ready for the holiday parade!”. You cannot understand their dedication and strength of their will when it comes to the That Luang holiday. In fact, those 7 days they do not go to sleep because the holiday lasts for the program is designed on a 24/7 system. It is quite interesting!
During the ritual of giving alms within the temple and on the way out, everyone is sitting quietly on the mats and listening to prayers. Some people pour water on the earth and ask Ngama Thorani (the goddess of Earth) to tell the spirits of her relatives to come and receive their gifts, while others release the birds from the cage to receive “greater merit.”
Everyone is trying to enter the Grand Stupa when the formal part of the ceremony is over to give alms to the alms, light candles and incense and pray for happiness. The last day is reserved for a traditional outing, when people eat cooked chicken, rice and noodles with their friends and family.
I was able, with the little help of a team from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, to enter the Grand Stupa a little before the others so that I could show you some of the customs practiced by the locals during the That Luang Festival. Along the way, I also participated in giving alms and gifts.
When you enter the Great Stupa – That Luang, you can find monks to give your gifts and contributions. If you are wondering if there is any order of giving and who has the advantage of the monks in taking gifts and donations, it is all individual and depends on the goodwill of the local population.
Perhaps a small preference is given to young monks, novice monks who are very sympathetic and because of their decision to join the monastic ranks of the temple in such a way, they count people’s sympathies. There is a rule that the youngest members of the temple must be nine years of age in order to be eligible to attend a Buddhist school and become Buddhist monks.
It is very difficult to enter the Grand Stupa in the early morning hours, those selected who manage to enter feel a great kind of pride and strive to respect the customs that religion allowed to them. One of the customs is a walk three times around That Luang stupa for happiness and health.
Since I had the opportunity to sit in the courtyard of the Great Stupa by the afternoon, I had the impression of seeing all the same people, however, they are changing and new ones are coming who want to do their “duty” for a better tomorrow.
Being almost two meters tall, it is not difficult at all to spot this red jacket, so many people approached me asking me to take a picture. At the end I just squatted and people came to take pictures with me with joy.
Lao people, regardless of age, are big fans of social media, so when they heard that I was a blogger who came from Europe to promote Laos they wanted to take some pictures with me. This was very nice and unusual for me, so I tried to meet almost all interested people and set aside time for little photo shoot.
It was time for lunch and a short break, so we decided to go to the restaurant and after that I rest for a while. After a couple of hours, we returned to the Grand Stupa again to attend the closing ceremony of That Luang Festival with a monk parade and a candlelight ritual.
The closing ceremony of That Luang Festival itself has a special festive tone. The locals carry special bouquets with flowers and candles to enter the “procession of light”. The procession is led by monks and they tour several circles around the Grand Stupa. Of course, on the last day there is an accompanying music program and special games organized as part of the festival.
My dear travellers, once again we have come to the end post from special series of post from my Lao adventure. Time just flies so fast when you are having a good time! At the end of this post, I would like to thank my friends from Ministry of Information, Culture, Tourism of Lao DPR and Qatar Airways for this incredible adventure and Crown Plaza Vientiane and Landmark Mekong Riverside hotels for their huge efforts to make our stay unforgettable and I felt like at home. Also I would like to say huge thank you for this great adventure.
How do you like this story about That Luang Festival? Have you maybe had a chance to visit Laos? I would like to share with me your experience! See you next week with another interesting story from Laos and we will discover together why Laos is called as “The land of 1000 Elephants”.
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This post was sponsored by Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of PDR Lao and Qatar Airways airline company. I would like to say thank you to Crown Plaza Vientiane and Landmark Mekong Riverside hotels for having me. This trip was an extraordinary experience for me! I also thank my friends from Sony who made it possible to enjoy in these beautiful photos made with the Sony Alpha 7r Mark II camera with Sony FE 24-70 mm lense from special G Master series of professional lenses.