Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century AD as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at the Museum of Ho Prakes. After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King FaNgum (14th century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism and other beliefs. His policy was aimed at developing the Lao culture based on a common faith: Theravada Buddhism. Today Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of the Laotian people. Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Laotian society. Laotian women can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the numbers of their rebirth. Laotian

men are expected to join a monastry for at least a short period in their lives. Traditionally they spend three months during the rainy season in Vat, a Buddhist temple. But nowadays most men limit their stay to one or two weeks.



Laotian people boast a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is That Luang, the Great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments throughout Laos. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred relics (Parts of Buddha’s body).
Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body then collect the bones and put it in the stupa, which winds up around the temple. Different styles of architecture are evident in the

numerous Buddhist vats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Vats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the vats of Xieng Khouang, where the temple roofs are not tiered.

Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the pha Lak pha Lam, the Laotian version of India’s epic Ramayana. Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed into palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in vats.
Another excellent example of the riches of Laotian culture is its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principal instrument is the khaen, a wind instrument that comprises a double row of Bamboo-like reeds fitted into a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or saw. The national folk dance is the lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.

© Bank of the Lao P.D.R