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Phuan ethnic group revives long forgotten stupa festival

Xieng Khuang province is awash with development and is creating new tourist attractions in particular, most of which have historical and cultural connections.
 The province’s Khoun district is the original home of the Phuan people and is famous for its prosperity in times gone by.

Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan in Khoun district, Xieng Khuang province.

But the district suffered great damage during the Indochina War, when many lives were lost and houses and other structures destroyed.
The number of people of all ethnic groups who lost their lives during years of aerial bombardment cannot be counted.
However, Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan remains and this sacred Buddhist stupa is highly revered by everyone in the area.
The stupa was once a central pillar of the Phuan people’s religion as it brought together the local community through a sharing of cultural traditions in November every year at a special festival coinciding with the That Luang festival in Vientiane and involving very similar rituals.
 The biggest festival at the stupa took place in 1957 when 250 sets of offerings were given by local people to their deceased ancestors and the sacred spirits of the Phuan ethnic group.
But in the years following 1957 the area was blighted with war and the annual celebration ceased and since then has been all but forgotten by the Phuan people.
Following Laos’ liberation from foreign domination and the end of war in 1975, the Phuan and other ethnic groups in Xieng Khuang, under the leadership of the Party and government, began a new life. Modern towns sprang up and people’s living conditions gradually improved.
In 2003, Mr Sukan Maharat became the Secretary of the Party Executive Committee in Xieng Khuang province. He learned about the origins of the Pha That Luang Meuang Phuan, which was built by King Lam Kham Kong, who ruled the Phuan Kingdom beginning in 1372.
In 1992, Mr Khamphou Vannachak was appointed to the central committee of the Lao Front for National Construction in Xieng Khuang province and today he is the manager of a project to raise funds for the reconstruction of Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan.

The villagers help each other to construct the Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan. The monks always tie the hand cotton to the donors for luck.

 Mr Khamphou was born in Khoun district and is a member of the Phuan ethnic group. Older people in the area have provided information about events that took place in times past and a body of material has been compiled to revive interest in and underpin the reconstruction of the stupa.
Through agreement with the Buddhist Fellowship, authorities in Khoun district and Xieng Khuang province, and local devotees, in 2008 a decision was made to restore the stupa at the temple in Naxay village, Khoun district, Xieng Khuang province and today it is almost complete.
“The Pha That Pedliem (octagon stupa) is the most important structure and most widely recognised symbol of the Lao Phuan temple but we have not been able to unearth any evidence of it because it was completely destroyed in the war and we don’t have any photos,” Mr Khamphou said.
The remains of an old stupa were found and some relics of Buddha were discovered inside it, so it was decided to build a stupa similar to That Luang in Vientiane to cover the old temple.
Mr Khamphou said the first celebration of the stupa will take place tomorrow and continue until February 5. The programme of activities includes the opening ceremony and a celebration of the success of the reconstruction of Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan, which will include many traditional rituals.
On the second day, people will bring offerings and place money inside the Buddha image, as well as make donations to temples.
Mr Khamphou said the last day would be the most important because 108 monks would gather for almsgiving and form a procession. There will also be a special Phuan rocket-making competition and traditional Lao stage performances.
The celebrations will take place during the day until midnight, with concerts every day as well as a market fair and activities relating to Phuan customs and culture.
Mr Khamphou said they plan to honour Pha That Luang Pedliem Meuang Phuan in this way every year at the end of January or beginning of February and intend to incorporate more Phuan traditions in order to revive Phuan customs and refresh people’s memories of a lost way of life.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
 (Latest Update February 1, 2023)


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