Wat Long Khun

A magnificent temple on the right side bank of the Mekong River

Wat Long Khun (or Long Khoun), the Monastary of the Happy or Blessed Song (Monastère du Chant Bienheureux) sometimes also is called the Monastery of the Willow Stream. The wat is attractively sited on a 1.5 hectare (3.7 acre) flat area at the top of a long stairway leading from the river’s edge on the right bank of the Mekong. It is located almost directly across the river from Wat Xieng Thong.

The monastery historically had important ties with the royal family of Luang Prabang. From its beginnings Wat Long Khoun served as a retreat center for spiritual revitalization. It was traditional practice that the new king-designate spend three days there in ceremonial bathing and meditative retreat before returning across the Mekong to the embarcadero of Wat Xieng Thong on the eve of his formal coronation. With the dissolution of the monarchy, however, the monastery was abandoned and fell into disrepair, as did the other wats on the right bank. The Lao Department of Museums and Archeology and the École française d’Extrême-Orient carefully restored the complex the mid-1990s using traditional materials and techniques.

The Luang Prabang style sim has two sections of almost equal size that are set on a low platform. The rear and older half is the sim proper and dates from the 18th century. It has some pleasant and sometimes vibrant interior jataka murals depicting the various lives of the Buddha. Unfortunately many are in poor condition because of moisture seeping into the building and from the years of neglect following the end of the monarchy. There doubtless also was deliberate vandalism from the revolutionary years of the mid-1970s, as one can see numerous gouges in the murals. Perhaps it is fortunate, however, that they have not been inexpertly repainted as has been the case in some of the other sims.

The front section is an extended portico added during the reign of King Sisavonvang in 1937. It has attractive gilded lotus-capped columns and a nicely carved wooden pediment with floral spirals and graceful figures with pointed tiaras. Under the portico and on the facade of the sim, one unexpectedly finds two historic and large bearded Chinese guardians flanking the main entry.

The wat also contains a rich variety of other structures. Most of were restored in the mid-1990s. There are six kutis, living quarters for the monks. They are of mixed traditional wooden styles and a number are raised on customary pilings. The earlier masonry stairs were reincorporated into most of these buildings. There is also a long narrow windowless structure near the sim that served as a meditation room for kings, their male relatives, monks and others.

One final short note about the name of the wat. Hans Georg Berger, in his valuable volume on the rituals of Luang Prabang, recounts a legend that suggests that the two hills opposite the city on the right bank of the Mekong represent a young girl leaning against a young man. Wat Long Khoun (which may be translated as a flatland near rivers and female abdomen) is next to her abdomen.

Text from oriental Architecture


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