The place that we are staying, Luang Prabang, has a lot of temples, called Wats. Those temples are one of the things that make it so famous. We are staying just one road up from “temple street”, the road with about a million temples. It is a Buddhist center! This morning my mom and I went to see the monks receive their daily offerings and sing a prayer outside one of the temples.
We woke up at six to go see the monks collect their sticky rice offerings from the local Lao people. People are not allowed to follow monks so we sat respectfully, in silence, across the street and watched them go about their morning. They all come along in a quiet line, carrying baskets with lids on. The Lao people give them sticky rice by hand, and they replace the lid on their basket after each donation. They can only walk in one direction, so they do a long walk around the block.
The last group of monks that we saw stopped outside the temple that we were at and sang a prayer. This chant releases prayers of the Lao people who donated to rice to the Buddha, for good fortune and so the prayers can be answered. Then the monks get to eat the rice – they eat the food, but not the food’s soul, which had gone to Buddha. Then they went into the temple and went about on their daily life and chores.
We sat there for a while, then we crossed the road and walked down the street until we reached another temple. We went into the courtyard of the temple and it wasn’t really like any temple I had ever seen. It was this flat concrete place with lots of little buildings in it. Each had at least one depiction of the Buddha, but one that we went into had at least one hundred, maybe more. We didn’t go in all of them, because there were so many, but the ones that we saw were amazing! They are covered with mosaics and gilded with gold. IT IS SO AMAZING! This is one of the most famous wats in Lao – partly because it has an amazing large Buddha that travels around visiting other places, partly because it has a very famous reclining Buddha, and partly because it was beautiful mosaic walls depicting Lao life.
About 67% of Lao people are Buddhists, so the majority basically. This is why there are so many Buddhist temples. Women are not at all allowed to touch monks, ever. Also when going in to a monastery everyone, not just women, has to cover up. That means no shoulders showing and no short shorts. People make offerings to the Buddha of sticky rice all around the temple and everyone knows not to take them, even if they are starving. These people are extremely religious and respectful to their gods and Buddha.
The Buddhists have about 15 festivals each year. You may wonder why I am telling you this; It is because we are here for one. We are here for the festival that the people celebrate right after Lao New Year. They all buy their meter-long candles, flower offerings, incense and holy water, and go to the temple where the festival is, and pray to the giant Buddha. There are lots of monks there helping to clean up the flowers and candles as there are hundreds of people who want to offer at the same time! When they are done praying they pour holy water into a golden gilded dragon tube and it runs a long way down to the statue of the Buddha that is in the central covered courtyard. They are helping to clean the Buddha because they feel that this will give them good luck for the new year, and enable Buddha to answer their prayers. Then they pray again to the outside Buddha. It is actually quite cool but I feel bad for the monks who have to clean up all that candle wax.
There are thousands of monks in Luang Prabang. They seem to range in age from about 11 years old to 84. Many of the younger monks come from the countryside to get a good education, because there are no schools where they live. Not all of them will remain monks when they get older, but some of them will use what they have learned to help their villages. We learned about one who helped set up the first ever book company in Laos, and another who has gone back to his village to try and set up a school. It was amazing seeing the all the monks in their cool orange clothing. I am really glad that I got up early so I could go see them.