“Mother, please help my son to pass the entrance exam and study in a good school. If he succeeds, I promise to give you two bunches of bananas, two coconuts, a wax castle and five pairs of lighted candles and flowers.”
This is a typical example of the prayers offered up at Vat Simeuang temple in Vientiane every day – a prayer to Nha Mae Simeuang, believed to be the city’s protector. People come here to make their heart’s desires known, and will return with offerings if their prayers are answered. Usually they bring coconuts, candles or money, all of which are laid in abundance at the main altar.
Supplicants come with both small and large requests. They might ask for good luck in business, trading, investments, family issues or their health. They ask for everything but love because it is believed that Nha Mae Simeuang doesn’t help in that area.
Every day people come to the temple with requests and others go to fulfill promises made after their wishes come true. While people don’t always get what they ask for, they do get hope and encouragement that can contribute to success.
It’s not just locals who visit the temple when in need; Buddhists from neighbouring countries are also drawn by Vat Simeuang’s reputed powers of good fortune. For visitors, it is a good place to witness local customs firsthand. For some, it’s a good place to earn a living by selling various items used in worship.
The temple is sometimes filled with large groups of tourists. It is most crowded when there is a full moon, which is considered a holy day. Tuesdays are also popular for worship.
During special occasions such as traditional festivals, devotees walk around the temple three times holding a lighted candle, an incense stick and some flowers. A good way to learn about Laos’ history is to visit museums or old temples like Vat Hor Phakeo, Vat Sisaket and That Luang. However, the best way to get a glimpse of local tradition is to spend some time at Vat Simeuang.
The temple was built in 1563 and houses the much venerated city pillar. Legend has it that the king at that time asked that a hole be dug to install the pillar and it must be large enough for a person and horse to fit inside. The king asked for someone to sacrifice themselves in the hole. A woman named Si, who was three months pregnant, offered herself as the sacrifice and walked for a day from her village to reach the temple. She arrived wearing beautiful clothes and threw herself into the hole after which the horse was forced down on top of her and she was buried alive.
A statue of King Sisavang Vong stands next to Vat Simeuang. Inside, the main hall of worship ( sim ) is unusually divided into two rooms. Most sim consist of a single large room. The front room of the sim is rather spare, but there is usually a monk on hand to give blessings. The rear room houses the main altar, which takes up almost the entire space. Vat Simeuang is located at Ban Simeuang, Sisatanark district, Vientiane.
published with the permission of Vientiane Times