FEATURE: Ancient Thinxoy stupa to be restored to attract tourists in Laos

by News Desk

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The Phathat Chedee Samakheetham Thinxoy stupa may not be as famous as the That Luang stupa in the heart of Vientiane but it was built almost 500 years old ago during the reign of Chao Xaysetthathirath, one of the greatest leaders in Lao history. 

The stupa is located within the Thinxoy temple complex at Pakngum village, part of Pakngum district in Vientiane. In the past, Pakgnum was known by the name Thinxoy.

Over nearly five centuries, the stupa did not get as much care as it deserved, something that is evident from the numerous bushes around the structure that hide its beauty.

According to legend, the temple was built in 1570 AD with the aim of making it the nerve centre for the Lao people at a time when Chao Xaysetthathirath was leading them to fight foreign aggressors.

According to Lao history, after Chao Xaysetthathirath had finished building Vientiane and its temples, the Myanmar army entered the region to attack the city. Chao Xaysetthathirath then moved his army from Vientiane and set up a stronghold at the mouth of the Ngum River to carry on his fight.

 Khamfeuang Boudsingkham, a committee member of the Vientiane branch of the Lao Front for National Construction who has reviewed the history of the temple and the stupa, said after Chao Xaysetthathirath and his people arrived at the mouth of the Ngum River, he asked the people to cut trees to make rafts that could be used to cross the river so they could live on its left bank.   

After staying there for three months, Chao Xaysetthathirath decided he would not move anywhere else. He established a temporary township called Viengngum to manage the affairs of the Pakgnum region.

But some spies of the Myanmar army found the location where Chao Xaysetthathirath was living, and he decided to move his army again. The new base for the army was established at Thinxoy temple, and Chao Xaysetthathirath established another temporary town called Viengthinxoy.

Viengthinxoy was built with defences to ensure the safety of his followers. It also became the main town of Pakngum, and Chao Xaysetthathirath created an armed force in the area to prepare for an attack by the Myanmar army. 

After hearing that the Myanmar army had run out of food supplies, Chao Xaysetthathirath led his forces on a raid to recapture Vientiane. He won the battle and returned triumphantly to the city.

During his return to Vientiane, there were 20 to 30 families, led by Bounchanh, who volunteered to guard Thinxoy temple. Khamfeuang believes some of the current residents of Pakngum village may be the descendents of Bounchanh.

After the volunteers had lived in the area for a few years, there was an outbreak of cholera in the village that killed almost all the residents. The survivors decided to cross the Mekong to live in ricefields and build huts. Today, the community established by these people is in Nongkoung village of Phonphisay district in Thailand’s Nong Khai province.

Once the volunteers left, the temple was deserted.

After the liberation of Laos in 1975, there were 12 houses located in the area surrounding the temple. On October 12, 1978, at noon, there was a surprising phenomenon at the temple.

While some five to six children, aged between 9 and 12 years, were sitting on the floor in front of the sim or ordination hall, a bald man wearing a white robe walked down from the sim to wash his feet.

The water that flowed after he washed his feet was yellow and pink and smelt like perfume. The man muttered that from now on, all children and grandchildren would have to strictly follow the five Buddhist rules (sin ha). After he finished washing his feet, the man walked into the stupa.

A boy aged 12 ran home to tell his parents about the elderly man. However, his parents did not see the man as he had become invisible after entering the stupa.

This amazing incident was reported to the authorities at Pakngum village. Many people came to see the footprints of the man. The footprints could be seen in the soil where he washed his feet, which remained wet. People believed this was holy water.

They used bowls to scoop up the water and took it to their homes. There were also reports that some sick children had become better after this holy water was applied to their heads.

During Chao Xaysetthathirath’s reign, he ordered the construction of walls to protect the city from enemy attacks. He also developed several structures such as:

A soil wall surrounding the city. Currently, this wall is still found in an area of nine hectares in Pakngum village. The Phathat Chedee Samakheetham Thinxoy stupa to be the nerve centre of people of all ethnicities. Today, this stupa remains standing at the Thinxoy temple complex. It is 3.80 metres wide and 17 metres high. There is one sim, or ordination hall, in the temple that is 6.30 metres wide and 10.17 metres long.

      A stone city pillar that is 26.50 cm wide and 85 cm high and a place for making bricks for use in constructing the temple.Even though the stupa has not been restored fully, some small restoration work has been completed as part of its maintenance and it has become a sacred place for Buddhists.

Mr Khamfeuang said that as Laos prepares for Visit Laos Year 2018, the Vientiane Information, Culture and Tourism Department has made plans to popularise the stupa as a tourist attraction. 

“If the stupa is restored, we believe more people will want to visit the temple and stupa. It will help the villagers earn extra money by selling local hand-made products and agricultural and farm products,” he said.