UNVEIL THE MYSTERY OF THE PLAIN OF JARS IN LAOS.
Nguyễn Xuân Quang
First at all, I concur that the jars were used in the funeral services. They are not containers for making rice wine or for storage of wine, rain water or foods. However, we need to answer these key questions: Who made these jars? And What were the real purposes of the jars?
The funeral rite using these stone jars was practiced by the people who worshipped the cosmos religion. Briefly, in the cosmos religion, the human beings are the children of the universe. Human beings are the microcosm born from the macrocosm. When dead, they return to the womb of the universe in order to be reborn or to go to the eternity.
Most of these stone jars portray the wombs. They represent the wombs of the cosmos or the universe or the cosmic pouch, the cosmic eggs. The English term ‘jar’ derives from Sanskrit root jar- meaning womb, uterus, pouch, gourd-shaped container. For example, the Sanskrit word jarâyu-ja means : born from the womb ( such as men and other animals). Jar is also closely related to the Vietnamese term dạ meaning pouch or womb (dạ con: pouch containing fetus). Thus, the jars portray the cosmic wombs in the cosmos religion.
This explains why the dead body was put in the jar in a fetal position.
Xray shows a corpse in fetal position in a funeral jar found in Indonesia with some grave goods (unknown source).
Why are the jars in clusters?
These stone jars appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars. Each cluster of jars might be owned by a dynasty, a royal family, a nationality or a clan.
There is also evidence that many of the jars were made at different times, sometimes even centuries apart. This fact confirms that each cluster is perhaps a cemetery of a clan or a nationality…
Why are the jars different in height, diameter and weight?
The jars vary in height, diameter and weigh. They are between 1 and 3 meters in height and can weigh up to 13 tons. They might be used for persons of different social ranks, for example the tallest, biggest jars might be used for the chiefs, the kings, the priests… Colani believed the urns once contained the remains of "chieftains”.
The small ones might be used as containers for ashes, unburned remains after cremation, offerings , amulets to protect the souls or as passports to guide the souls toward the upper world.
Why are the jars different in shapes?
Colani documented three distinct styles: short, squat shaped urns, tall slender urns and prism shaped urns.
The over 2,000 gigantic jars with different shapes and sizes at more than 90 sites within the province of Xieng Khouang scattered across the highlands of northeastern Laos must be a historic evidence of a flourished culture in the past.
As we know, the Dong Son bronze drums ( with opened bases) in cosmos religion are male objects (Vietnamese term trống means drum, male). When turned upside down, they become yin objects such as gongs, mortars, containers (Anatomy Of The Southeast Asian Bronze Drums, same author). In cosmology, the stone jars in Xieng Khoaung are the nòng, yin faces of the Dong Son bronze drums. Thus, similar to the shapes of the Dong Son bronze drums, the shapes of the jars may have meanings corresponding to the different phases of the cosmogeny. Their yin meanings are opposed to the yang meanings of the Dong Son bronze drums. Thus based on the classification of the Dong Son bronze drums, we can classify the stone jars in Xieng Khouang as follows:
1. Ovoid or egg-shaped stone jars
The egg-shaped Nguyen Xuan Quang type I Dong Son bronze drums when turned upside downs, do not change their shapes. The egg-shaped jars (representing yin-yang, the Great Ultimate) symbolize the yin-yang Cosmic Pouch or Cosmic Egg. The cosmic ovoid stone jars can be considered symbols of the Macrocosm, Upper World, Universe or Great Ultimate on the yin side.
An egg-shaped stone jar (Photo by author).
2. Tubular or cylindrical stone jars
This type corresponds to the Nguyen Xuan Quang type II: Tubular or Cylindrical drums or Fire-drums or K’ien drums.
The tubular or cylindrical Nguyen Xuan Quang type II Dong Son bronze drums when turned upside downs do not change their shapes. The tubular or cylindrical stone jars are the Fire-jars or K’ien jars of the yin side.
A fallen down and broken tubular or cylindrical jar (Photo by author).
2. The Smaller- upper part – Bigger- lower part or gourd shaped stone jars.
This type of jars corresponds to the tubular parasol-shaped Nguyễn Xuân Quang type III (Heger III) bronze drums or Karen (Shan) drums. This type of drums portrays air element or young yin Tui.
A fallen down long necked gourd shaped stone jar (Photo by author).
The Nguyen Xuan Quang Type III (NXQ. III): tubular air Parasol-shaped drums (Karen drum style) when turned upside down become the long necked gourd jars or vases with small upper parts and bigger bases.
The long necked gourd is an image of an earthly Pillar-shaped Mountain representing young yang Earth element Li.
A yang form of this type of gourd with straight-lined contour has the shape of a truncate pyramid which portrays yang mountain or Earth element.
A yang form with straight, angular truncate pyramid .
Thus, the gourd-shaped jars are the Earth-jars or Li jars of the yin side.
4. The short, squat shaped or cauldron shaped stone jars.
The Nguyễn Xuân Quang Type IV: squat Drums (South China drum style) or Male Water Chen Drums when turned upside downs become a cauldron shaped containers or jars.
As we know the containers are the symbols of water. Thus, the short, squat shaped or cauldron shaped stone jars are the yin Water element jars.
A squat cauldron shaped stone jar (Photo by author).
5-The air parasol shaped stone jar
The tubular top of the air parasol has bigger upper part and smaller lower part.
A stone jar with bigger upper part and smaller lower part found at Bada Valley in Sulawesi, Indonesia
This type of jars when turned upside down become Nguyễn Xuân Quang Type V pillar-shaped drums or Earth-drums or Young Yang or Li Drums. The drums of this type have the shape of pillars or supporting posts with wide bases that look like flat-cratered volcanoes. They symbolize Fire Mountain, yang earth, earthy World Mountain, the earth-axis Mountain, sky supporting post, or World axis.
As we know, earth is young yang (yin O of the yang I) or OI. In reverse, a young yang OI drum upside drown becomes young yin or yang I of yin or IO stone jars.
Young yin IO has a primordial aspect of Air element. Thus the air parasol shaped or wide top shaped stone jars are the yin Air element jars.
6. Spherical or round or O shaped stone jars.
The spherical, round or O shaped jars depict nòng O (circle, pouch, sac, bag…), yin opposed to nọc I (rod, stake, tree…), yang.
Thus the spherical or round O shaped stone jars correspond to the Nguyen Xuan Quang Type VI or Mushroom-shaped Drums or Cosmic Mushroom drums.
Hence, the spherical or round O-shaped jars symbolize the Cosmic Pouch (Nothingness, Universe or Creation).
Each clan had its own particular shaped jars, for example water clan used the cauldron shaped jars.
The shapes of the Dong Son bronze drums and Xieng Khouang stone jars both have the symbolic meanings corresponding to the doctrine of cosmogeny.
The stone jars of Xieng Khouang and Đông Sơn bronze drums reflect two parallel cultures with different yang yin characters of the same Cosmos religion culture. They both belong to the same family of The People of the Cosmos.
Rock carvings or petroglyphs
As mentioned above, there was a bas-relief human carving with raised arms (called ‘frogman’ by some authors) on the exterior of a jar at site 1.
A jar with a ‘frogman’ petroglyph at site 1 Ban Ang (Photo by author).
In the cosmos religion, this figure represents a Primordial Being, a Supreme Being or a Creator of man kind who was born from Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life.
On the yang side, he is a male Supreme Being, the male Creator, Sun Father, Father God, Father of Life, Ultimate male Ancestor… He usually was depicted as a standing person with both arms raising above his head.
On the yin side, she is a female Supreme Being, female Creator, Space Mother, Mother Goddess, Ultimate female Ancestor… She usually was depicted in an obstetrical position with both arms raised above her head or sometime as a pregnant woman.
These figures were present in all cultures and civilizations that worshipped cosmos religion or was influenced by its doctrine. Therefore, they also appeared in primitive arts in many parts of the world.
The egg-shaped body of the figure on this jar demonstrates that this figure is a female Cosmic Being or Celestial Being. The genital organ of this person is flat with a questionable vulvar opening. Furthermore, the round face, oval body and delicate beautiful arms give us an impression that this cosmic being is a woman. With a short, squat, cauldron-like shape, this jar has a t’ai yin character and it is a yin Water element jar. Thus, this person is more likely a female being.
Let’s view a few examples of the female or male celestial figure seen in the territory of Bai Yue and their neighbor countries.
At Muong Hoa Valley in Sapa District, Lao Cai Province, 350 km North-West of Hanoi, many rock carvings have been discovered long time ago (in 1925). Among these rock carvings, there are many human images of the Mother Goddess and pregnant women as image of fertility related to Mother Goddess.
A rock carving depicts a Mother Goddess found at Muong Hoa in Sapa, Vietnam.
A rock carving depicts a pregnant woman in Sapa.
There are also images of human beings with the enlarged sexual organs and images of men and women making love (copulation). These figures also depict fertility, an aspect of the cosmos religion based on the nòng nọc (circle-rod symbols of female and male genital organ or yin yang).
These rock carvings reflect the cosmos and the sun worshipping religion.
There are also rock carvings depicting the sun people with the sun rayed headdresses.
The rock carvings in Sapa depicting the cosmos and sun worshipping indicate that the people who carved them belonged to or were related to the Bai Yue in general and to the Vietnamese people in particularly. The Dong Son bronze drums demonstrate that the Viet people are the People of the Sun who worshipped the cosmos and the sun religions.
Indeed “there are opinions underlining that those pieces of stone have been carved by the old VIET people, or ethnic groups near to the old VIET. people”(http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/959/).
According to the creation myth of the Vietnamese people, Mother Goddess Au Co gave birth to a pouch (sac) which hatched a hundred sun princes Lang Hung known collectively as Bach Viet (Bai Yue), ancestors of the Vietnamese people.
Vietnamese Mother Goddess Au Co, in an obstetrical position, gave birth to a cosmic pouch which hatched 100 sun princes, ancestors of Bai Yue, terra cotta bricks, Le Trung Hung Dynasty, 15-17 centuries (Photo by author taken at National Museum of History in Hanoi).
The pouch portrays the cosmic and sun princes portray the sun. The Au Co‘s pouch is a cosmic egg or universe.
This Vietnamese myth is similar to the Laos legendary stating that Laotians were born from a gourd. Gourd also means pouch, sac. The Vietnamese term bầu means gourd, pouch, sac, pregnancy. Legendary Laotian gourd is a cosmic pouch, cosmic egg or universe.
This fact suggests that the Laotians, a ramification of the Thai (Tai) branch, belonged to the Bai Yue family.
.Yunan, South China.
Mother Goddess is seen on a metal piece in Kunming, Yunnan.
Note that Yunnan was an old territory of Bai Yue people.
Mother Goddess Lajja Maharashtra was found in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Lajja Maharashtra statue in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. India.
-Celebes (Sulawesi) Island
On a stone sarcophagus (waroega), there is an image of Mother Goddess.
Waroega, Minahasa, Celebes (Bertling 1931, Fig.32).
Waroega means the place where the body is unbound completely.
There is an image of Mother Goddess seen on a traverse canoe board in Trobriand Island, New Guinea.
(source: after Seligman 1910, Pl.LXV).
.On the Dong Son type bronze drum in Indonesia
In front of the female or space house on the Indonesian Sangeang bronze drum, there is an image of Mother Goddess.
A Mother Goddess image in front of the female or space house on the Indonesian Sangeang drum.
On the yang side, as mentioned above, the ‘frogman’ figure portrays the male Supreme Being, Father God, Sun God…
The Sangeang bronze drum is a Dong Son type drum (Nguyen Xuan Quang type VI or Heger type I).
These Cosmic Beings appeared on a Dong Son bronze drum (which is the icon of the cosmos religion and also used as funeral bronze urn). Human ashes and human parts (bone, skull) were found in some Dong Son bronze drums excavated in North Vietnam.
in Australia, among the petroglyphs carved by the indigents, there is one depicting a woman in an obstetrical position who is now interpreted as a spirit ancestor.