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An experience we will never forget
March 24, 2012

Wat Aham

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Wat Aham, the "Monastery of the blossomed Heart" exudes serenity. Wat Aham is no longer the center of religious activities of the city, yet it remains critically important to the heritage of Luang Prabang as it combines the worship of guardian spirits and Buddhist practices.
 
The serenity of this temple has been disturbed several times in the past. This temple was indeed the ground of religious conflict between spirit guardian animist and Theravada Buddhism.

 



The date of Wat Aham’s foundation remains unknown. There was a wat on the site before the king Manthatourath (1817-1836) did build the Sim in 1818 (some suggested 1822 or 1823). The Sim has a relatively simple shape with similar porches, facades without external side galleries and stucco statues guarding the entrances.  

The interior is bright and colorful Sim. The structural elements of the pillars and beams are painted red and gold, while the interior walls are covered with murals depicting Buddhist precepts theological, various scenes of torture and suffering experienced by those who inflicted the harm to others, and some thoughts on the past history of the city.

An impressive wat which has undergone an eventful history. The site on which now stands Wat Aham has a historical and cultural significance is partly due to the fact there took place here, in the sixteenth century, tensions and religious conflicts.

The founder of the kingdom of Lan Xang, Fa Ngum (r. 1353-1373), a Lao prince educated at the court of Angkor Khmer, first established a tutelary shrine to worship the spirits of Luang Prabang (Luang devata), Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). Fa Ngum was also of Theravada Buddhism the state religion.


In 1527, the ruler of Lan Xang kingdom, King Photthisarat (1520-1548) began an attack against the worship of guardian spirits. He prohibited religious ceremonies held in their honor, destroyed their shrines and erected a Buddhist monastery on the site. Despite the ban, some secretly continued to worship guardian spirits. Shortly after the attack on the guardian spirits of the city, the city was plagued by a number of crises, diseases, droughts and crop failures.
 
The next king, Sai Setthathirat (1548-1571) moved the royal capital to Vientiane in 1563 and rebuilt the sanctuary for the spirits. The guardian spirits and Buddhism have coexisted peacefully together until the mid-nineteenth century, when the sanctuary was destroyed again.

For much of the nineteenth century until now, Wat Aham Sangkhalat has been the residence of the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism. At the same time, it remains the center of Luang devata worship and house of the Prabang sacred Buddha. During the Pi Mai, the Lunar New Year in Laos, the masks came off the gold chests and suspended by ropes, in which they are kept, and play an important role in the pageantry of the festival with the famous "Dance of the Masks."