Day 4 – Wat Xieng Thong @ Luang Prabang

Posted: June 22, 2010 in Sights
Tags: , , , , , , ,

There are 2 main entrance to Wat Xieng Thong, one is at the main road next to Wat Xi Buan Heung, and the one we took, the river entry which is above the bank of the Mekong. Before reaching Wat Xieng Thong ( WXT), we stopped at an embankment to have a look at the section where River Khan meet the Mighty Mekong

 

 After climbing up the stairs leading to the wat , we were greeted by 2 large white err..cats statues at the entrance of WXT , the cats ( or tigers)  had red lips, red gums,  red teeth plus red nails. I didn’t quite like the look of them and therefore did not take any pictures ( which I am regretting right now). We paid 20,000 kip to the lady manning the entrance and saw this beautiful temple with the low sweeping double tired roof.

 

From my web search, probably the most elaborate site about WXT is here http://www.orientalarchitecture.com/laos/luangprabang/wat_xiengthong.php , Extracts : It was the site of coronation of Lao kings and also the center of numerous annual festivals honoring the Buddha and various folk spirits. An early legend about the origin of Xieng Thong suggests that two hermits settled on a site (and set the boundary stones of the town and the monastery) near a notable mai thong, or flame-of the-forest tree (the tree is depicted on the rear façade of the sim). The sites were also near the home of two of the city’s powerful nagas that lived at the juncture of the two rivers.

The monastery had its origins in the 16th century. King Setthathilat, or Sai Xetthathilat, (1548-1571) founded it in 1560 to commemorate the memory of the Chanthaphanith (8th century AD?), a betal merchant and the legendary first king of Luang Prabang.

The elaborate black and gold stencils outside of the sim and a glimpse of the interior of the sim. 

 

Stencils inside the temple depicting Buddhist tales and stories of Chantaphanith

 

 A large statue of the Buddha ( and some smaller ones) inside the sim

 

One thing I noticed about some of  the wats in Laos is that they have this golden pointy thingy on the top of the sim.  Only when I am writing this did I find out that…this is called ‘dok so fa’ and symbolizes royal patronage  and if there are more than 10 element, then the wat was built by a king.

 

At the rear of the sim is a tree of life  mosaic arrangement ( building on left), the building on the right is the Tripitaka library.

 

Read more about the Tripitaka library by clicking here, Extracts related to Tripitaka Library are from this site, extracts : Wat Xieng Thong Tripitaka Library (built 1828) . Historically it served as a storehouse for the Tripitaka, the ‘three baskets’ of the Theravada Buddhist canon of scriptures. Although the building possibly dates from 1828, there doubtless were earlier repositories for the sacred texts. In addition to the scriptures, the building houses several important gilded Buddha images.

There is a double-tiered roof with a lower perimeter roof supported by sixteen elaborate gilded eave brackets, and an elevated gable roof with gilded wooden relief sculptures under the gables on the east and west sides.

 

There was another structure with  the similar purple pinkish colouration and coloured mosaics as the Tripitaka library, this is the Red Chapel ( chapel of the reclining Buddha )

Read more about it by clicking here , . Extracts related to Red Chapel are from this link . Extracts : The exterior is covered with a red, sometimes fading to pink, stucco inlaid with brightly colored glass mosaics that illustrate both religious activities and everyday Lao life. The mosaics were added, during the major restoration of the chapel in 1957, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s death and achievement of nirvana.

 

There was a 2 meter long bronze reclining Buddha in this chapel , Extracts : The bronze reclining Buddha about two meters long, is one of the most valuable of Lao Buddhist images. It fashioned in the classic Lao style (rather than Thai or Lanna) and clad in flowing robes. The Buddha is lying on its right side with the right hand supporting the head. The inscription on its base indicates it was crafted in 1569 on the order of King Sai Setthathirat. The figure was taken to Paris in 1931 and placed in a prominent position in the Indochina Pavilion at the International Colonial Exposition. Upon its return to Laos it was placed in the parlor of a French official in Vientiane and then in 1949 was transferred to Wat Phra Keo, also in the capital. The flame unisha (hair knot) was added at Phra Keo. Three years later it was returned to Luang Prabang.

 The exterior wall of the chapel was prettily decorated with glass coloured mosaics, Extracts :   The charming, noteworthy and primitive-style exterior mosaics describe a variety of scenes of traditional village life: trees, boats, carts, elephants, houses, hunting and fishing, working and playing, as well as ethereal religious scenes set higher on the walls. The mosaics also relate the fictional story of Sièo (or Siaw) Sawat, a commoner and son of a rich merchant, who used his wit and common sense to become an important minister of the king. The story presents a period of prosperity, religious ardor, peace and grandeur. It also describes people coming from great distances to consult the wise and clever counsel of the commoner minister. Though the mosaic depicts a cheerful era of religious faith, prosperity, peace and good government, subsequent Lao reality, unfortunately, has not necessarily matched the era of that happy period. The Red Chapel, however, convey a harmony of the sacred and the secular in its structure and in its interior and exterior ornamentation.

 

Opposite the sim was a impressive building predominantly in gold

 

This is the carriage house or Royal Funerary Chariot Hall . Read more about it by clicking here . Extracts related to carriage house are all from this site . Extracts  : It was built to house and preserve the funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong (1885-1959), King of Luang Prabang, 1904-46, and King of Laos, 1946-59.

We could  identify Hanuman from the panels, so, had rightly guessed that these panels tell the story of the Ramayana , Extracts : Uniquely, the façade and exterior side walls are covered with sculpted and gilded teakwood panels. They were crafted by local artisan Thit Tanh (Pae Ton) with the assistance of other Luang Prabang craftsmen under the supervision of the master artisans of the Royal Palace. The panels recount the Lao version of the story of the Ramayana, the Pha Lak Pha Lam. One can follow episodes of Rama, Hanuman, Sita’s judgment by fire, Ravana, and Indra in the form of the golden deer. The right tympanum is stunning in its depiction of the combat between the vulture king and Ravana, the kidnapper of Sita. Ravana’s numerous arms hold many different weapons.

Sita judgement by fire

 

Rama and Sita

 

Once we stepped into the building , we were greeted by teeth baring nagas.

 

It was a carriage of some sort with 3 big urns. Shameful to say, I only found out the details when I am writing this post.

 Extracts  : The almost 40 ft (12m) high gilded wooden royal carriage sets grandly on the body of a six wheel truck at the entry door. It also was the creation of Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). The hearse was used carry the remains of King Sisavang Vong to the field near Wat That Luang for his cremation in April 1961. Highly ornate, it is dominated by seven nagas with gaping jaws and prominent fangs at its prow and an elaborate red canopy supported by gilded and ornate columns at its center. There are three ornate gilded sandlewood funerary urns that contained the remains of the king’s father (in front) and mother (in the rear); Sisavang Vong’s remains are given the central place of honor under the canopy. The remains were placed upright in a fetal position. The ashes of the king, queen and royal brother are at Wat That Luang.

 There are various Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes stored  at the rear of the hall. At the time of visit, a photographic project/ archiving was taking place inside the hall.

 

 There were numerous structures and sights around WXT

 

 

A fascinating experience..

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