FEATURE: That Luang renovation restores iconic national treasure
By Visith Teppalath
21 October 2016

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The restoration aims to return the revered stupa to its traditional glory in readiness for the 450th anniversary celebrations that will take place alongside the annual That Luang festival next month.

The fourth restoration of Vientiane’s Pha That Luang, which began early last month, aims to preserve this national and cultural icon.

The restoration aims to return the revered stupa to its traditional glory in readiness for the 450th anniversary celebrations that will take place alongside the annual That Luang festival next month.

The stupa is of great national, religious and cultural importance and is dear to the hearts of all Lao people.

The project organising committee is overseeing the restoration and is actively seeking donations to finance the repairs. Meanwhile work crews are busily going about their duties to ensure all jobs are completed on time.

The restoration is expected to cost more than 10 billion kip ($1.2 million). It is improving the main body of the stupa and giving the gleaming spires a facelift. The landscaping is also being improved and repairs carried out to the electrical system and other features.

The organising committee has so far collected more than 10 kilogrammes of gold, along with cash donations from government sources and private donors. These include more than 650 million kip, two million Thai baht, and gifts of US dollars and Chinese yuan. Further donations are also being sought.

The committee is aiming for the restoration to be complete before this year’s That Luang festival celebrations from November 12-14, with the highlight being the placing of more than 10 kilogrammes of donated gold on the stupa’s apex.

The restoration project was officially launched at the stupa on September 4. The ceremony was attended by Vice President Phankham Viphavanh, Vientiane Mayor Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoun, senior officials, monks, the renovation committee, and members of the public.

On October 2, another event took place at the stupa to melt the gold that will be used to coat the top of the main spire.

The gold melting ceremony marked the start of the restoration and was attended by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoun, senior officials, monks, the renovation committee and members of the public.

The renovation includes repairs to the spherical part of the stupa at the very top, at the base of the stupa, its corridors, gates and doors as well as the gold coating to be placed on the apex.

The venerable Khamma Panyavichit of Hongkhar village temple in Chanthabouly district and a member of the That Luang Restoration Project Committee said he was delighted to be a member of the committee because the stupa is Laos’ most important religious symbol and the pinnacle of Lao culture and architecture.

“It is very important to renovate the stupa because it is the focal point of our minds and the unity and solidarity of Lao people nationwide. Anyone can enter the stupa, either for a visit or to worship. The renovations will continue until next month but they must be complete before the That Luang Festival. The committee has already received a considerable amount of funding but the fundraising efforts will continue. Devotees and interested parties are invited to contribute to this important work,” Panyavichit said.

The Pha That Luang or great sacred stupa was originally built during the reign of King Xaysetthathirath in the middle of the 16th Century.

It has long been the national symbol of Laos and is one of the most important monuments in the country. It is considered to be a sacred site because people believe the stupa enshrines a relic of the Lord Buddha.

This is the fourth major renovation of the stupa, with others having taken place in 1819, 1930-1935, and 1976.

Pha That Luang is a towering golden stupa and one of the most famous cultural landmarks in Laos.

It is also among the top tourist attractions and features some of the oldest archeology in Vientiane and the country.

It is a centre of religion and culture and teaches people about Laos’ ancient culture and history.

The intricate architecture and carvings also provide lessons about the stupa’s origins.

The stupa was originally built in the 3rd Century at the same time as the establishment of City of Vientiane. It was built to house some bones that were believed to be those of Lord Buddha. The original stupa was very small and made of stone. It was built as a place for people to worship and pray to Buddha.

The original structure was renovated on the orders of King Xaysetthathirath when he moved the Lao capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane in 1560.

The king led his citizens in enlarging the stupa in 1566 and the original structure was covered with a bigger stupa. From then on the monument took the name Pha That Luang or Grand Stupa.

The stupa is located in That Luang village, Xaysettha district, Vientiane.

Every November, the colourful That Luang festival is staged to celebrate the stupa, which is the most revered in Laos. People engage in many traditional activities and ritual ceremonies to pay homage to the stupa. These include a ‘wax castle’ procession, almsgiving, a game of traditional Lao hockey, and candlelit processions, to honour both the stupa and King Xaysetthathirath.

The That Luang Festival is held annually and celebrations last for at least three days. The culmination of the festival always falls on the 15th full moon day of the 11th lunar month, which this year is November 14. The wax castle procession is the most colourful activity and always attracts large crowds. 

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