The 45 metres high That Luang Stupa or Pha That Luang was originally built during the ancient Khmer civilisation, when Vientiane was inhabited by people known as the ‘Cham’. Researchers believe the structure was originally a four-sided stone obelisk.
The site was built as a place for people to worship and pray to idol, according to the book That Luang Viengchanh, recompiled by Kavi in 1999. The structure was renovated during the reign of King Saysetthathirath in the 16th century when the original site was covered with a larger stupa. From then on the monument took the name That Luang, or Grand Stupa.
The Cham period was the second wave of Buddhism and was a glorious period in Lao history. Under the patronage of King Ashokkamahalath of India, the venerable monks Sona and Outala and five scholars brought a piece of what believers understand to be pieces of the pelvic bone of Lord Buddha to Vientiane in 218 BCE, where it was kept at Phou Luang hill.
The ruler of Vientiane at that time, Lord Chanthabouly Phasitthisack or Boulichanh, built a stupa over the obelisk in 236 BCE. The sacred site was then named Pha Chedi Lokachulamany.
According to the legend of That Phanom Stupa, also known as ‘Tamnan Oulangkhathat’, King Ashokkamahalath authorized the relics to be placed inside That Luang Stupa in Vientiane. The same legend claims the remains of Lord Buddha were distributed to all corners of the globe where there were Buddhist followers and his ashes were put inside 84,000 stupas. This number corresponds to the 84,000 points raised for believers to study in the tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures).