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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vat Phou festival marks growing attraction

The country's second World Heritage Site is celebrating its annual traditional festival with a range of colourful activities.

A view of some of the ancient structures in the Vat Phou area.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) added Vat Phou to its list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001. The first such site in Laos is the ancient city of Luang Prabang , added to the list of world cultural attractions in 1995.

Last year provincial authorities celebrated the 5 th anniversary of Vat Phou's addition to the UNESCO list. More than 1,000 senior officials, local residents and foreign visitors attended the event.

This year's programme activities include religious rituals and locally organised activities, according to the Head of the Ancient Research Unit in Champassak province, Mr Bounlap Keokanya, and the Governor of Champassak district, Mr Sipaseuth Sengsavath.

The festival runs from February 16-21.

Mr Sipaseuth said a trade fair was being held to display and sell products from various villages, districts and companies.

Visitors would be able to explore the Vat Phou temple complex, built at the end of the 5 th century. The final day of the festival will see an alms offering ceremony, held in the early morning at Vat Phou, where hundred of monks will bestow blessings on merit-makers.

Mr Bounlap said Vat Phou was an important and meaningful place for the province. Its special place in history is based on various cultural sites, leading UNESCO to approve its addition to the World Heritage list in 2001.

According to UNESCO, Vat Phou is an outstanding example of the integration of a symbolic landscape of great spiritual significance with its natural surroundings.

The layout of the site is contrived to express a Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity. Vat Phou exhibits a remarkable complex of monuments from different periods of time and different religions that made use of the site, spread over an extensive area between the river and a hill. The hill itself was selected for religious reasons, because of the phallic shape of its rocky peak, and the location of a natural spring at the top.

Mr Bounlap explained that Vat Phou has outstanding architecture, with many great works of art carved into its walls. Sculptures and inscriptions from the site are now displayed in the museum that lies at its base.

“The Vat Phou temple complex and the landscaping to be found in surrounding areas of Champassak are remarkably well preserved, reflecting a plan more than 1,000 years old,” he said.

He said the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity was based around an axis drawn from the mountain top to the riverbank, laying out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and pools extending over some 10 km.

Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao Mountain .

This magical landscape covers about 390 square kilometres, on the right bank of the Mekong River . It includes the remains of an ancient city, the remains of the foundations of tall structure with pillars, a nang sida hall, a thao tao hall and a group of stone temples on Vat Phou itself.

The ancient city covers 400 hectares of Champassak district, according to Mr Bounlap.

Vat Phou is an excellent example of classic Khmer and Cham decorative architecture. At the foot of Vat Phou is the ancient city of Shestupura , first settled in the 5 th century AD, one of the oldest urban settlements in Southeast Asia .

Mr Bounlap said the group of stone temples on Vat Phou was an important reference point in the two periods of Khmer architecture in the 7 th and 12 th centuries. They were built on a hillside, which was very rare in Khmer architecture and ran along an east-west axis over 1,400 metres.

The provincial authorities, in conjunction with local residents, organise the festival in February each year, when people come from around the world to pay respect to a place that is highly revered in the south of Laos .

By phon thekeo
(Latest Update Febuary 18, 2008)

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