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March 24, 2012

Wat Mai

Wat Mai is a Buddhist temple or wat built in late 18 century in Luang Prabang. It is the largest and most richly decorated of the temples in town. Wat Mai is located near the Sisavangvong night market street and adjoining the compound of the Royal Palace.

Wat Mai holds great significance in Laos culture for both religious and aesthetic reasons. The monastery served as a temple for the royal family and long has been the residence of the Pra Sangkharat, the highest Laotian Buddhist dignitary.

The greatest architectural hallmark of Wat Mai is its five tiered roof. Its expanse is readily viewed from the adjoining elevated sidewalk on Thanon Sisavangvong. Its front veranda extends across the width of the nave and protects the gilded bas relief on the front façade and other decorations. The magnificent relief dates from the remodeling of the late 1960s. The cement reliefs were first covered with a black lacquer and then gilded. The entire relief stunningly depicts scenes from the Ramayana and the Vessantara-Jakata, the Buddha's penultimate reincarnation, within the villages and flora and fauna of the world around Luang Prabang. The large and majestic red interior nave with gold stenciling on the columns, beams and walls together with the variety of gilded Buddha statues and tables at the altar and the large Buddha statue provide evidence of the religious, aesthetic and architectural importance of Wat Mai.

(Part of this article is written by Robert D. Fiala)

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