|The Land Where the Naga Sleeps|
|Written by Jason Brink|
|Monday, 30 August 2010 01:06|
Beneath the city, the seven-headed dragon slumbers. Deep within its cave, curled around the heart of the earth, the primordial hero of the Lao people rests, waiting for the day it is needed again. The last time the Naga slithered out from its subterranean lair was in 1828, when according to local legend it repulsed the invading Siamese army and helped the Lao people maintain their independence.
Marking the age old entrance of this cave is a stupa rising out of the earth like a needle. It is old, at least 500 years or so. Its local name is “That Dam” (pronounced Tawt Dahm). It is located in a lonely roundabout near the center of Vientiane. While the road surrounding The Black Stupa is in good shape, the second you step onto the grounds surrounding the stupa you can see how into disrepair it has fallen. It was originally covered in gold, but that was carted off back to Siam during the Siam-Lao war in the 1820s. The dragon rose to protect the Lao people, but didn't have enough motivation to protect the ornamentation of its own home. It is this act of vandalism that gave the stupa its modern moniker, The Black Stupa.
Stupas are focusing points of energy here on earth. They are created by Buddhists as a communal act of merit making. Within them they contain a treasury filled full of symbols of its builder...small scrolls covered with the well-wishes and poetry of those involved in its creation, small bits of jewelry of sentimental value, artwork....anything that means something to its people.
That is all I can find out about the Black Stupa... the moment we saw it when walking down the street I was instantly taken with it. A magnificent point thrust into the sky like a finger held aloft to punctuate a point. Now, unfortunately, that’s all it is. Nobody really knows much about it, the locals have their legend of the Naga, but from a historical perspective almost nothing is known about it. Nobody really knows when it was built, though it certainly looks old. All records concerning it have been lost in the dynastic wars and petty squabbled of kings and principalities, and now its just another monument in a lonely roundabout in SE Asia...ignored by locals and paid token respect by the occasional tourist...though in a city crammed with temples and wats of all shape and size, a lonely stupa covered with grass molders away, forgotten.
I stand before it, and I am filled with mixed emotions... part of me ponders the human aspect of this stupa... I think of the hopes and dreams and wishes poured into this stupa. The thousands of people who contributed to its construction and contributed tiny bits of their lives to raising this monument. The man who helped cart bricks up the side of the monument...what did he think as he carried basket after basket of baked clay bricks up to the top? This is the side I try to focus on...
Part of me, the archeologist, screams for more information. How is it that a monument like this exists without having been seriously studied? How has nobody looked into this, how do we not know more. I have the urge to raise a group of people, delve into the depths of the stupa to drag out its treasury into the light of day...see what is written upon the scraps of parchment, what can be learned about the people now lost to the past who labored to erect this needle to the heavens. Who built it...where did the gold actually end up? So it was carted back to Siam...what did it fund? What monument was it incorporated into?
Part of me tried to bind these two mental forces together...to tie the information to the human. Wrapping the people up in the history, seeing it as a great tapestry and not a card-file of information. History is not just a collection of facts...it is a collection of human ambition, hopes, dreams, tragedies, dramas, stories, and lives...every bit as real as our own. Every thought and action throughout the whole scope of humanity carries its own weight, every act of contrition or love, every selfless act of heroism...all carry their own eternal meaning, their own ripples spreading eternally throughout time.
One day we will leave our own future generations puzzling over our actions, and the monuments we have left behind. Perhaps they will puzzle over the flickering entertainment shrines so many keep in their living room... graven images of plasma and liquid crystal worshiped by so many for so many hours every evening. They might puzzle over our odd burial practices or our strange dress or morality. We look at notes scrawled by the Romans on the interior of their latrines and chuckle...perhaps the people in our future will explore the sunken cities of North America and laugh as they pore over our mountains of data left behind.
Once again, I am sitting in the Scandinavian Bakery in Vientiane, Laos...getting ready to the Thai Embassy to apply for a new visa. Vientiane is a beautiful but odd city. There are a TREMENDOUS number of monuments, and restaurants of very shape and size...there was even a Turkish place called the “Istanbul”...if I could remember where it is I would go get lunch there.
Anyways, off I go. I will talk to you all later!