It was built in 1548 during the reign of Setthathirath, King of the Lan Xang Kingdom. During a storm in the year 1900 the sim collapsed and many other structures were damaged. The temple was restored in the first decade of the 20th century. During Laos new year celebrations monks of several temples walk in procession to the Wat Mahathat where a dance in performed for Pu No and Na No, the guardian spirits of the city.
A staircase flanked by 7 headed mythological Naga serpents leads tot the temple grounds. The Wat Mahathat’s large sim dates from 1910, when it was rebuilt after a storm had destroyed the original structure. The sim has a large, sweeping roof extending down almost to the ground. At the center of the two tiered, tiled roof is a “Dok so faa”, an ornamental element found on many Laotian temples. This one consists of 15 small pagodas topped by multi tiered ceremonial parasols.
Flanking the staircase to the main entrance are two statues of Phra Mae Thorani, the Earth Goddess from Buddhist mythology. She is shown as a young woman wringing water out of her long hair, drowning the enemies of the demon Mara, who tries to stop the Buddha from meditating and reaching enlightenment.
On the sides of the temple are more staircases with multi headed Naga serpents protecting the sim. A veranda extends around the front and sides of the structure. The sim’s front façade is particularly ornate; the gable is decorated with several golden motifs, including a Dhamma wheel topped by a ceremonial seven tiered parasol.
Six very richly stencilled columns in black and gold colors support the porches roof. Its walls are adorned with murals depicting scenes from the Phra Lak Pra Lam, the Laos version of the Indian epic Ramayana. The door is adorned with gilded carvings of characters from the epic.
Lanna style stupa
Behind the sim is a large blackish stupa, set on a square base. The Lanna style stupa was built in the mid 16th century. The niches on the upper part of the stupa contain gilded standing Buddha images in the calling for rain mudra. The stupa is topped by a slender spire and a multi tiered golden parasol.
Around it are several more recent and smaller stupas. A small stupa adorned with colorful mosaics contain the ashes of Prince Phetsarath, leader of the anti French Lao Issara movement. Two other stupas contain the ashes of Prince Souvanna Phouma and of Prince Souphanouvong.
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