The Gilded Bas Relief Of Wat Mai

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham on Sisavangvong street, was once the principle royal monastery, the residence of the chief Laotian Buddhist dignitary (Phra Sangkharat), and the repository of the 33″ high, gold alloy Buddha icon (Phra Bang), that Laung Prabang derives its name from.

It also once held the famed Emerald Buddha, that was moved to Vientiane, before being carted away during the Siamese invasion. (It now resides in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok)
Wat Mai
With the rather tragic end of the monarchy, the Sangkharat moved to Vientiane, and the Phra Bang, to the museum attached to the palace next door. (Presently awaiting transfer to the brand new Haw Phra Bang, the temple constructed inside the Palace grounds specifically for the purpose.) 

But Wat Mai’s religious and cultural significance remains undiminished, and the three day Laotian new Year festival, is said to atract thousands of pilgrims, who come to witness the ceremonial return of the Phra Bang, and the rituals surrounding it.

Wat Mai - Luang Prabang
Rear view of altar.

The Wat dates back to the 17th century, but most of the present structure(s), including the fabulous gilded bas relief on the facade, depicting stories from the Ramayana and from Laotian daily life, were restored or rebuilt in the 19th century.

Despite all that grand gilding on the facade, this monastery, with its mystifying placement of Buddhas in the altar, holds a special, almost spiritual appeal. Possibly heightened in our case, by the mesmerizing chanting that we stumbled upon one evening on our way to dinner.
A glimpse of the sacred that we are unlikely to forget.

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

86 thoughts on “The Gilded Bas Relief Of Wat Mai

  1. Madhu, your beautiful photos give me yet another reason to return to Luang Prabang. It feels as though Bama and I barely scratched the surface when we were there! Somehow we managed to miss Wat Mai completely, and we ended up skipping the Royal Palace in favour of lunch at Tamarind before a jaunt to the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls (which was a bit of a letdown).

    Wat Mai seems even more ornate than Wat Xieng Thong – and I would probably gaze at that gilded bas-relief for hours! Thankfully these two temples escaped destruction when the rest of LP burned in 1887.

    1. Thanks James. The Wat Mai is much smaller in scale than the Wat Xieng Thong, but it had a more spiritual feel. The Royal Palace, wasn’t anything to write home about, and the golden Prabang statue is in fact quite diminutive and disappointing. So you didn’t miss much there 🙂

    1. We do don’t we? I often wonder whether that extravagance is for the love of God or for a show of might? 🙂 Thank you for the visit George 🙂

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