Wat Lo Lao Buddhist festival under way in Kennewick

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City Herald, June 13, 2009

KENNEWICK WA (USA) -- A dozen monks in orange and gold robes led the march around the temple.

They walked slowly, trailed by a crowd pounding on small drums, playing horns, clanging cymbals and carrying a long banner painted in bright colors.

The banner told the story of Bounphraveth, a central figure in Lao Buddhism and the reason for Friday’s celebration.

People of the faith believe he was a generous man who sacrificed his possessions and even his family for others, and that in his next life he was Buddha.

The parade at Wat Lao Thammayanaram, the Laotian Buddhist temple on West 27th Avenue in Kennewick, helped kick off a three-day festival in his honor.

“We respect Buddha, so we celebrate (Bounphraveth) every year,” said Kham Detsadachank, a Wat Lao member who helped organize the event.

Hundreds gathered at Wat Lao on Friday night. There was traditional music, food and a bounce house for kids.

Before the parade, the monks kneeled in the sim nam, a blue and gold structure that resembles a gazebo but has water underneath. They chanted in Laotian, telling the story of Bounphraveth.

He was a prince who gave away everything he had, including a white elephant believed to symbolize good luck. That upset his people, and he was driven out of his home. While in exile, he even made the sacrifice of giving up his children.

But there’s a happy ending. Bounphraveth eventually was welcomed home.

As the monks told the story, people sat on the ground quietly, some wearing traditional silk sashes over their clothes.

During the parade, which symbolized the homecoming, there was laughing and singing. There were people dressed as each of the central figures in the story.

About 170 families are part of Wat Lao, said Somsamay Phongsavath, a member and event organizer. The temple has three monks, but several more were invited for the weekend’s celebration.

In Laos, the holiday is an exciting time that’s greatly anticipated, Detsadachank said. “The people prepare for this celebration at least two to three months before,” he said.

It’s second only to Lao New Year as the most important holiday of the year.

Festivities continue today at Wat Lao. Monks will be chanting and performing religious activities. There also will be live music in the afternoon. The community is invited to attend. There also will be activities Sunday morning.

Wat Lao is at 3002 W. 27th Ave.