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Phra Bang

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The Phra Bang (literally "delicate Buddha", Lao ພະ + ບາງ), or 'Holy Golden Buddha' is the palladium of Laos. It is an 83cm-high standing Buddha with palms facing forward, cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf. According to local lore, it was cast in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sometime between the 1st and 9th century. However, the features of the image suggest a much later Khmer origin. It arrived in Lan Xang in 1353 from Angkor to spread Theravada Buddhism in the new kingdom. In 1359 the Khmer king gave the Pra Bang to his son-in-law, the first Lang Xang monarch Fa Ngum (1353-1373); to provide Buddhist legitimacy both to Fa Ngum's rule and by extension to the sovereignty of Laos. The former Lao capital Luang Prabang, where it was kept, is named after the Buddha image.

The Pra Bang is seen as a symbol of the right to rule Laos, as only a pure and true government could hope to hold on to the sacred image. In 1778, the Siamese (now Thai) invaded Luang Prabang and captured the Pra Bang, taking it back to Bangkok. Political upheavals and misfortunes were attributed to the Pra Bang, and in 1782 it was returned to the Laotians. Again in 1828, the Siamese captured the Pra Bang but returned it again in 1867 after similar political upheavals.

Luangprabang1

Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang

As of September 2006, the Pra Bang is temporarily located in a room in the Royal Palace Museum (Haw Kham) in Luang Prabang, while a new temple (the Hop Pra Bang) is being constructed for it nearby, withnin the Royal Palace grounds. Construction of the new temple is almost complete, and the Pra Bang should be installed in the pavilion in the very near future.

Each year, on the third day of Pimay or Men Sang Khan Kheun,"‘Day of the Arrival of the New Year's Tutelary Deity", the Pra Bang is taken in procession to Vat May. It is exhibited at the purification shrine, surmounted by two hang lin to receive water dispensed by the people.

There remains doubt whether the image in the museum is the same object that was given to Fa Ngum. Some suggest that the image on show is a copy and that the original is kept in a bank vault in Vientiane for safekeeping. Another local rumour suggests that the Pra Bang was given to the Soviets in 1975 in exchange for help during the Cold War. Nonetheless the Pra Bang remains an object of veneration and a reminder of the rich traditions of Luang Prabang.

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