A temple of 10,000 Buddhas and counting
Not so long ago, I had the chance to visit this sacred place of such cultural and historical significance, originating from the old Kingdom of Lane Xang. This treasure is named Wat Satasahatsaham (meaning the “Temple of over 10,000 Buddha Images”) but is more commonly known as Wat Sisaket. With each visit, this temple consistently preserves its ethereal allure and cultural and historical meaning. From the moment I step inside, it is like time pauses to allow me to feel the ambiance of the Lane Xang Kingdom in all its prosperity and glory as though we are living among the people of that era right.
The construction of Wat Sisaket commenced in 1818 under the reign of King Anouvong, who restored many revered sites, such as the That Luang stupa and the Ho Pha Keo temple, and also built Wat Sisaket, which is now of great historical importance.
On entering the temple cloister, my attention was drawn to some writing etched into a stone slab hanging on the wall to the right of the door. The stone was smooth, flawless, and brown in color and the writing had been engraved by hand, telling of the history of the temple’s construction, configuration, and inauguration. Having looked at the fine artistry of the slab, I was struck by the sim (ordination hall) situated right in the center of the cloister. From the outside, I could see the large Buddha statue inside, amid the glow of the yellow lights, which further enhanced the splendor of this unforgettable picture. But that was not all – the majestic and sacrosanct ordination hall itself is also home to Ong Sen, the main Buddha image, and a plethora of other Buddha images in various postures in addition to various relics for use in religious ceremonies while also hosting many monastic rituals, including the mass recital of Buddhist monastic rules and ordinations. Inside the sim are murals depicting the Balasangkhaya, an old Buddhist tale of the adventures of Prince Bokkharaphat. The pictures of these murals were painted using the expertise of artists of the era and also depict the site of the old Royal Palace (where the Presidential Palace now stands), temples, buildings of significance, the life of the Buddha, and the ways of living of the people in addition to pictures of nature, which stimulated my imagination, causing me to visualize the era as if I was there in person. When I walked out to the right of the temple, however, I came back to my senses as I stumbled upon a fascinating hang hod, a long ceremonial wooden trough, crafted out of a single log of wood and carved into the head of a Naga water serpent at one end and with patterns engraved into the surface. This is used in religious ceremonies for the Lao New Year and also for the ordination of monks. Perfumed water mixed with various flowers is ritually poured into the trough where it runs over Buddha images and monks at the other end.
Looking up inside the sim, I gaze upon 1,026 Buddha niches carved into the walls, each containing two small Buddha images. There is also a storage room to the west of the sim containing Buddha images damaged when Siam sacked Vientiane between 1826 and 1828. A total of 996 of these broken bronze Buddha images were taken from temples throughout Vientiane.
All tourist attractions in Laos – whether they are cultural, historical, or natural – possess a quintessential elegance, which is characteristic of the Lao nation. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone, to preserve, maintain, and look after them because tourism must also include responsibility towards all the sites we visit. We should work together to conserve and preserve their irreplaceable and sublime magnificence so they may be enjoyed by future generations.
Wat Sisaket is located in downtown Vientiane
TRANSLATED BY Nick Pugh
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Phoonsab Thevongsa / JASON ROLAN