Stunning Wax Castle Procession Reflects Rich Lao Culture

Source: Vientiane Times

Thousands of people gathered yesterday for the grand wax castle procession, one of the main features of the annual That Luang festival and among the country’s cultural highlights.

The festival has become more widely known over the years and more and more foreigners make a point of coming to Vientiane for this very special and uniquely Lao event.

This year’s festival holds greater significance than usual as it marks the 450th anniversary of the building of the nation’s iconic symbol  the golden That Luang stupa. During the festival from November 12 to 14, visitors can also see an almsgiving ceremony, a traditional tikhi game, and a candlelight procession around the gleaming stupa.

This year there was an extra surprise in store for visitors as there were several exhibitions featuring a traditional village and various aspects of Lao lifestyle since the 16th Century.

To mark the 450th anniversary of the stupa, on Saturday Vice President Phankham Viphavanh, Vientiane Mayor Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoune, and other government officials attended an opening ceremony of the celebration.

This was followed up by the much anticipated wax castle procession yesterday, led by monks, government officials and other notable groups, with the procession parading majestically around the stupa.

Participants carried the gaily decorated wax castles, borne by individuals and groups representing provinces, districts, villages, and public organisations.

Before coming to That Luang, procession participants brought their wax castles to Vat Simeuang where they paraded around the temple on Saturday night.

The procession begins at Vat Simeuang, which was built on the orders of King Xaysetthathirath and is considered to be the home of Vientiane’s founding pillar, and therefore one of the most important places in the capital.

According to legend, when the pillar was laid above a hole, a pregnant woman named Ms Si inspired by supernatural forces sacrificed herself by jumping to her death under the pillar as it was being dropped into position. Ms Si, or Chao Mae Simeuang, is now seen as the guardian of the city and people pay homage to her every year during the festival.

Wax castle processions have been a part of Lao life for many years and people greatly enjoy this tradition. It is common to offer wax castles on special occasions and people believe it earns them a great deal of merit. There is a legend relating to Buddha’s life and the tradition of offering ornamental items made from honey and wax.

Wax castle offerings are hosted by families, villages, and districts; presented in groups and individually. Their bearers ask for blessings from monks and the spirits, hoping for good luck, health, and wealth. This year’s festival was a special opportunity for delegates from several countries who are in Vientiane for the fourth meeting of governors and mayors of Asean capitals. The meeting is taking place from November 13 to 17 and participants had the added bonus of a firsthand insight into Lao culture.

This morning thousands of devotees will take part in a mass almsgiving ceremony around the That Luang stupa and the esplanade, presenting offerings to monks.

The That Luang festival is one of biggest and most colourful celebrations for Lao people nationwide.

The event has been even more grandly celebrated this year as it marks both the 450th anniversary of the stupa and the success of the fourth That Luang restoration project.