The Spiritual Gardens of Laos
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Luang Prabang is a sacred and historical haven, the spiritual capital of Laos. Before it became what it is nowadays, it was a town called Muang Sua; the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom – the Kingdom of the Million Elephants. Through the efforts of the royal family, the Prabang – the sacred gold buddha image – was brought to the city to introduce Buddhism. It was after the ascendance of Buddhism in the region that the city was renamed to Luang Prabang – The City of Buddha.
Luang Prabang underwent an identity transformation given that its people had traditionally believed in spirits and their connection between the gods and human beings. This city represents the merging and evolution of a successful blend between the people´s traditional beliefs and Buddhism. As a result of the rich cultural history, Luang Prabang is portrayed as a city of ghosts, spirits and nagas.
The city was pronounced UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 due to its exceptional fusion of Lao traditional architecture and the European colonial style buildings. With this nomination, every pond in the city was protected, as it is claimed to be the home of the naga, the mythical semidivine being that is half human and half cobra. Maison Dalabua is surrounded amongst three of these sacred ponds – the home of the nagas, covered by the symbol of spiritual enlightenment and rebirth: the lotus flower. It is from this spiritual and cultural heritage that the name “Dalabua” meaning Lotus Princess, emerges.
Due to its unique transformation, lotus symbolize enlightenment, purity, rebirth and triumph over obstacles in Eastern cultures. Lotus flowers defy logic with its ability to dip into the grunge, to come from the underwater mud and revive itself over the surface to face the sunshine daily. It represents how living life with unwavering faith, ensures the most beautiful revivals.
“The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.”
– Buddhist Proverb
In Buddhist text, the name lotus refers to two different flowers traditionally called boua in Laos, which belong to the same botanical family. What is known in English as “lotus flower” refers to the boualouang, meaning the royal lotus; these emerge erected from the water surface. A “water lily” is referred to as bouanyou bouangeun, meaning the small lotus or silver lotus; these emerge to the water surface but stay afloat. Both flowers are symbolic of perseverance and hope, a reminder from nature to trust in the unseen path that leads to the sun.
Buddhism believes that the lotus journey is a mirror of our own spiritual journeys. Our spirits emerge in the way the lotus bud does – tightly closed and buried in deep and dark mud, representing our condition in suffering. It is from the experiences lived and worked along with the virtues of a Buddhist life that we slowly open ourselves to enlightenment. Likewise, it represents non-attachment by remaining firmly planted in the mud while growing high above the water´s surface and untainted from the dirt that surrounds it.
According to a Buddhist myth – “The Buddha appeared atop a floating lotus and his first footsteps on Earth left lotus blossoms.”
In Laos, boua flowers have a significant respect. Lotus are only placed on the altar dedicated to Buddha in temples or in homes. Its symbolism towards something unearthly and enlightening is the reason why it is often seen alongside divine figures. These flowers are never used in arrangements for ceremonial Bacis nor in the traditional maakbeng. It may also be seen held by a man who is on his way to being ordained.
“It’s crossing from a muddy seed to a glorious blossom offers the hope that something beautiful can grow from suffering, that we too will eventually bloom”.
No matter people´s beliefs, the lotus symbol continues to draw one’s attention towards embracing its exquisiteness. Lotus imagery is now immersed throughout many of our cultures and daily practices without being lucidly noticed. In yoga practice and meditation, it is represented through various exercises. Lotus Pose in hatha yoga is a fundamental position that allows one to achieve the highest concentration possible for meditation. Similarly, Padma Mudra – a specific, out of several, sacred gestures used to channel energy during yoga or meditation – creates the imagery of a lotus blooming in the sun, intentioning the drive to open the heart chakra and inspire gratitude, empathy and unconditional love.
At Maison Dalabua we are in constant awe of the beauty and energetical power our flowers bring to the environment. Our resident nagas are properly taken care of through the loving and nurturing work of the team focused on maintaining and balancing our ponds – for which we are daily grateful. Let’s unite through the enlightening meditation the lotus symbol generates and aspire for greatness; let´s take in the cultural knowledge of the history passed on by the boua.