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Almsgiving Draws Crowds

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Thousands of people gathered yesterday morning to give alms to monks at the That Luang esplanade, in a traditional ritual that is a highlight of the annual festival to pay homage to the That Luang stupa.

Devotees dressed in traditional costume eagerly made their way to the esplanade carrying food and offerings, then looked for a comfortable spot to sit while waiting for the almsgiving to begin.

The almsgiving ceremony was also attended by President Bounnhang Vorachit, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and other government officials.

People carried various traditional items to show their veneration for the Pha That Luang, or Grand Stupa.

Most were residents of Vientiane including foreigners living in Laos but people from the provinces and visitors also enjoyed taking part in and observing the rituals. Monks and novices from around the country were present in large numbers to receive the offerings.

After giving alms, people gathered to eat traditional festival dishes such as khaopoun, khaomao, khaolarm, and chicken soup.

The almsgiving ceremony is a major part of the last day of the That Luang festival but is followed by other activities including a game of Lao-style hockey in the afternoon and a colourful candlelight procession in the evening, which brings the festival to a close.

The That Luang festival is one of biggest and most colourful events in Laos and people nationwide look forward to taking part.

The annual festival takes place over three days and always ends on the 15th full moon day of the 11th lunar month (in November). This year the festival was officially observed from November 12-14, but the celebrations always start a few days before.

The festival comprises a succession of events to pay respect to the stupa and to honour King Xaysetthathirath.

This year the popular wax castle procession took place at That Luang temple on November 13, with the almsgiving, tikhy match and candlelight procession being held on November 14.

The festival had the added attraction of celebrating the stupa’s 450th anniversary and the success of the fourth That Luang restoration project.

This meant that all the activities carried extra meaning, and Laos’ ancient culture and traditions were magnificently portrayed.

Also a prominent feature of the event were the many stalls selling locally made products, including agricultural produce, and handicrafts. There was also an exhibition of a traditional village and some colourful cultural performances.

One visitor, Ms Khamphuang from Xaysettha district, said she was very happy to take part in the almsgiving because it was a fine tradition and a very meaningful activity.

“I came here with my children today and we are very happy because we can make merit and share in this special occasion with thousands of other people. This year the festival is more interesting than in previous years because the country’s traditions have been highlighted. It’s also special because it’s the 450th anniversary of the original construction of the stupa. Everyone, including me, is very much enjoying it. I come to give alms here every year and this year I have taken part in a lot of other activities as well. I think we should continue to hold the festival in the traditional way next year because it’s good to preserve our customs,” she added.

Pha That Luang, or great sacred stupa, was originally built during the reign of King Xaysetthathirath in the middle of the 16th century. The stupa is located in That Luang village, Xaysettha district.

It has long been the national symbol and is one of the most important monuments in Laos. It is a sacred site because people believe the stupa enshrines a relic of the Lord Buddha. It is also among the most significant tourist attractions and features some of the oldest archaeology in Vientiane and the country.

It is a religious and cultural centre that can teach people about Laos’ unique ancient culture, architecture and history. It is the centre of Lao culture and solidarity, and the centre of Buddhist faith in Laos.

 

Source: Vientiane Times