One of the trademarks of Laos is the diversity of its people and cultures. There are a number of traditional arts and crafts that represent their way of life.
Art and Culture
Lao has a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic traditions. There exists across the country a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is the That Luang, the great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics (parts of Buddha s body). Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body and then place the bones in the stupa, which are set around the grounds of temples, or wats. Different styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist Wats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Wats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike in Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the wats of Xieng Khouang where the temple roofs are not tiered . Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors. The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of India s epic Ramayana.
Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in wats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or Saw. The national folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.