Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan (Temple of the Heavy Buddha) is one of many Buddhist Monasteries that are present in the city of Vientiane in Laos. This name is given to the temple due to the large, bronze Phra Ong Teu Buddha image that is present within the temple: the largest Buddha in Vientiane. This temple was initially constructed by King Settathirat I in the 16th century (known as the golden age of Buddhism in Laos) when Laos was being bombarded by the Burmese, but was later demolished during a foreign invasion. Thus, it may have gone through many reconstructions during the 19th or 20th century to attain the appearance it has today.
After commanding for the relocation of the capital of Laos from the city of Luang Prabang to Vientiane, King Setthathirat I produced many monasteries such as Wat That Luang and Wat Phra Kaew. The reason this particular wat (Lao for temple) was built was because Setthathirat I desired to create the Phra Ong Teu image that would be placed within it, and to have it as his person living quarters.
There would be six other sculptures of this image present in other monasteries, but Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan contains the first of them. Since this time period is known as the golden age, the wat would evolve into a complex with a sim (ordination hall), a ho rackhang (bell tower), a ho kong (drum tower), a that (stupa), and a kuti (monks’ living quarters). Each of these parts of the complex all share the similar artistic motif of the architecture of the central wat, which is discussed later.
When Siam sacked Laos in 1827-28 as a punishment for almost all of the monasteries in Laos, including Wat Ong Teu, were destroyed. This was only made worse afterwards when the Ho bandits tried sack Vientiane again to take gold from Wat Ong Teu and others. In 1900, following the establishment of the Franco-Siamese treaty in 1843, the French chose Vientiane as their capital and started the reconstruction of its monasteries including Wat Ong Teu.
As an addition, the French may have also created a school, in the same format and appearance as the rest of the complex to further exemplify the function of Wat Ong Teu as a place of study. The Lao Buddhist Institute was made in 1929 and still functions today as a school for the Theravada Buddhist religion.
Seemingly the most intricate part of the exterior of Wat Ong Teu is its roof. It illustrates a myriad of different styles from around Asia that blend in an extraordinarily harmonious way. A commonly used feature in Asia for the roof is the utilization of a curved roof. This non-linear approach was originated by the Chinese. In China, architects thought that evil spirits despised curved lines, therefore giving an apotropaic effect to the temple. Lao ideas of the curved roof should have been similar to China’s as well. This aspect is especially important when the principal function of this temple is to teach the Buddhist religion. Students learning the Buddhist religion should especially be protected from the evils of the outside world.