Crowds of people gathered in Vientiane yesterday afternoon to take part in and admire the spectacle that is the wax castle procession – one of the highlights of the annual That Luang Festival.

The parade was led by monks and government officials, with everyone dressed in their traditional finery. Musicians in ethnic costumes played as people danced and sang folk songs, raising people’s spirits and entertaining all those within earshot.

The pavements from Singha 23 Road near the Patuxay monument to the That Luang stupa were packed with people from all walks of life, all standing patiently in the hot sun to experience the traditional procession. Some 200 colourfully decorated castle-like structures were paraded along the route, brought from provinces all around the country.

The 12-hectare That Luang esplanade was also crowded with people browsing the booths at the national trade fair which opened on November 22 as a lead-up event to the festival.

Traffic was occasionally stopped to smooth the movement of the procession. It was the biggest ever as all the provinces participated for the first time to mark Visit Laos Year 2012.

Upon reaching the stupa, the procession slowly circumnavigated it three times in a clockwise direction, led by monks from That Luang temple chanting ancient Pali verses.

Following this, they placed the wax castles at the stupa and lit candles and incense to ask for blessings from the Buddha.

Placing castles at the stupa on this occasion is believed to bring considerable merit as they are considered a very worthy offering to Buddha.

According to legend, a monkey once offered honey to Buddha, and was reborn as a human. This is symbolised in the use of honey in the yellow wax flowers that are attached to the handmade structures.

The procession also represents solidarity among communities, as people from all backgrounds come together to pay homage to the stupa. Groups from across the country aimed to bring at least one wax castle in homage, as they believe the stupa contains a relic of the Buddha.

However, it was clear that some people didn’t fully understand the meaning of the procession. Noy, who was participating in the event for the first time, spoke to Vientiane Times afterwards.

“I don’t really know what it (the procession) signifies – I just assume it is a form of merit making. Today I bought a small castle and joined in,” said Noy, who hails from Champassak province. “Of course, I prayed when I was in the procession walking around the stupa.”

Like Noy, many foreign visitors do not know the significance of the procession and some had never seen it before, but they were impressed by this longstanding tradition, which has been handed down from generation to generation.

A visitor from London named Paul Lotto, who was on his first trip to Laos, said he had never seen such an event before. He encountered the parade by chance. He hadn’t intended to watch it but was recommended to go along by other tourists on their way there.

“I don’t know what it (the wax castle procession) symbolises. But it’s a great opportunity to see such a wonderful display,” said Lotto, who was readying his camera to take pictures.

A number of activities have been organised for this year’s festival. Today, there will be an almsgiving for 5,000 monks, a tikhy (hockey) match and an evening candlelight procession around the stupa – the last event of the festival.

Source: Vientiane Times
November 28, 2012