People of every age and background got up early yesterday morning to prepare offerings for 5,000 monks at the That Luang stupa – the largest almsgiving ceremony in Laos.

The ceremony is the highlight of the annual That Luang Festival and is always on the last day, which coincides with the full moon. Most of those taking part dressed in either traditional costume or formal clothes for the occasion.

President Choummaly Sayasone and Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit joined other Party and state leaders among the huge crowd of people from across the country who gathered to present their offerings to the assembled monks.

Monks from other countries made the journey to the ceremony in Laos to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of Buddhism. They also took part in the almsgiving, bolstering the number of monks in attendance to a record 5,000.

Each monk has his own bowl which he sets out to recive offerings, so 5,000 containers must be filled.

The 12-hectare esplanade was packed full of people eager to give their offerings to monks lined up with arms outstretched outside the stupa. The daunting crowds didn’t deter wheelchair-bound citizens, who were accompanied by their relatives to help them in their quest to make merit.

Many attending the event had to walk for a kilometre or two from where they had parked, as record numbers turned out for the special occasion.

Almsgiving at the That Luang stupa is considered a must-do for Vientiane residents, and something to be done at least once by those who live further afield.

Buddhists say they experience a sense of inner peace after giving their offerings to the monks.

“I feel good and joyful after handing over my offerings,” said Vientiane resident Mrs Koun Detsongkham, who was flanked by her sisters. She said she’d also come to give alms on several occasions in the past.

Most people prepare their offerings themselves, while those with busy schedules can buy packaged offerings from stalls surrounding the stupa.

“I prepared the offerings myself the night before,” Mrs Koun said.

Many foreigners said they were excited to witness firsthand people practising this ancient Buddhist ritual.

Moroccan Mr Said El Moutaoukil, who has been working in Laos for 18 months, said he was impressed to witness such a large event for the first time.

“This is the biggest event I’ve ever taken part in during my time in Laos, including weddings and baci ceremonies,” he said.

“It is very good to be here; peop le look very happy,” he added. Like on other days of the festival, people yesterday made merit either financially or materially. Many, including visitors from the provinces and Vietnam donated cash, with the amounts announced over loudspeakers. While thousands of ordinary people enjoyed the festival, security officials made their contribution b y working around the clock to maintain safety.

“We are tasked to maintain security as a priority. We cannot prepare and make offerings,” said First Lieutenant Phouvien Sithonthongkham. Many businesses in Vientiane closed on Wednesday to allow their staff to enjoy the final day of the festival.

Late yesterday afternoon, people gathered to witness the tikhy (hockey) match held at the That Luang esplanade. In the evening, the area was again crowded as people joined in the final candlelight procession around the grand stupa – a fitting spectacle to bring the festival to a close.

Source: Vientiane Times
November 29, 2012