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. Though this temple is created in Vientiane, it has the basic shape for what is known as the ‘Luang Prabang I style’ with its scare use of brickwork and rectangular-like body. Wat Ong Teu is said to have been placed along a cardinal point in accordance with three other temples, but that may just be coincidental.
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.
The original use of this wat was for ceremonies of allegiance to the king. However, in the 17th century, Souligna Vongsa as king transformed this temple into a Buddhist learning center in order to ‘teach, enlighten and inspire worshippers.’ In other words, it has become a school for monks coming from around Southeast Asia to study the dhamma. This becomes apparent because surrounding countries of Laos sent their monks to Vientiane to study this religion. Such a function is more understandable of Wat Ong Teu since there are many details that give the suggestion of a learning center.