The That or Stupa is found in different shapes and sizes in every monastery in the world, especially in Laos. The Stupa, which is composed of three levels: the base, the body and the spire, is the symbol of the Cosmos. The most important ones are shrines to relics of Buddha. That Luang, The Grand Stupa, in Vientiane Capital is sanctuary to the Lord’s hair and bosom bone. It was built over an ancient stupa in the 16th century, by King Setthathirath when he moved the capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. It has since become the symbol of Laos and is profoundly revered by all Lao People.
That Luang Festival
The That Luang religious festival last three days. It starts with the wax castle procession at Wat Si Meuang and end with a procession around the stupa. Thousands of monks and ten of thousands of pilgrims come from all over the country and even from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to attend the festival.
One week before the religious festival, a huge international trade fair features goods and exhibitions from all over the world. The religious festival starts with the procession at Wat Si Meuang to worship the City’s foundation pillar and pay homage to Nya Mae Si Meuang or Lady Si Meuang, a pregnant woman, inspired by the divinities, jumped into the hold in which the city pillar was about to be planted and was thus crushed to death. She has become, since, the protector of Vientiane and inhabitants devote a special cult to her. The procession gather Phasat Pheung (wax castles) of banana trunks and decorated with flowers made of wax. The Phasat, which re commissioned by families or villages in and procession around Vientiane, are carried three times around the Sin and then offered to the temple. This procession is very spontaneous and colourful and ends with fireworks, which symbolizes an offering of flowers of light to Lord Buddha.
The next day, at 01:00PM, a bigger and more elaborate procession brings more wax castles through the Eastern Gate of the That Luang cloister. The wax castles are carried three times around the Grand Stupa and offered to the shrine.
On the last day of the festival, as early as 05:00AM, thousands of devotees gather in the cloister and around it, on the esplanade for the Takbat, the morning offering to the monks. After the ceremony, each family gather at stalls to eat Khao Poun, the national rice noodle soup and Tom Kai, chicken soup.
Early in the afternoon, there is the ritual game of Tee Khee, a polo game traditionally played in the Kingdom of Vientiane and believed to be exported to Burma and later to England. In the past, the game was between a team of officials and a team of villagers.