An Angkoran ruin in Laos

A travel piece on Vat Phou, one of the earliest Angkor temples located Laos.

Vat Phou in Laos, Stuff.co.nz 20111018

Vat Phou temple’s ancient history
Stuff.co.nz, 18 October 2011

In the fifth century, Champasak was thought to be the centre of the Laotian universe. Today it’s a drowsy one-car village clutching the western bank of the Mekong River in southern Laos and home to the tiny Hindu-built Vat Phou, which some archaeologists believe may have been the first Angkor temple ever built.

At a glance, Vat Phou doesn’t seem like the kind of structure that would initiate an empire. A tiny prayer hall at the top of a precarious stone stairway, with two reception halls on the plains below, Vat Phou lacks the jaw-dropping awesomeness of temples in Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park. But as with the Angkor temples, its symbolism is extraordinary.

Tucked under the phallic-shaped mountain peak of Phu Kao – thought to represent Mount Meru, the sacred mountain at the centre of the Hindu cosmology – Vat Phou was worshipped as the embodiment of Shiva. The spring nearby was associated with Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati. Water runs underground from Phu Kao’s peak, rising through Parvati. From here, passing a series of barays (man-made dams) and linga (phallic statues), water flows into the Mekong, blessing everything on its journey south.

Full story here.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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