Culture in Laos

Lao people boast a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is That Luang , the Great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments throughout Laos. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred relics (parts of Buddha’s body).

Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body then collect the bone and put in the stupa which set around the temple. Different styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist vats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Vats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike in Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the vats of Xieng Khouang where the temple roofs are not tiered.

Lao religious images and art are also distinctive and set Laos apart from its neighbours. The “Calling for Rain” posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other South East Asian Buddhist art traditions.

Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak Pha Lam, the Lao version of India’s epic Ramayana. Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in vats.

Another excellent example for the richness of Lao culture is its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the khaen, a wind instrument which comprises a double row of Bamboo-like reeds fitted into a hardwood soundbox. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or saw. The national folk dance is the lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.