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Dokchampa graces Lao New Year

The dokchampa is central to many Lao New Year ceremonies.

White for purity and sincerity, yellow for happiness and cheerfulness, pink for love and passion, and a pleasant, calming scent. These are the characteristics of the Lao national fl ower, the dokchampa, and they also sum up the character of the Lao people.The dokchampa comes in various colours. However, the national fl ower is the original species, Plumeriarubra,which has a white fl ower with a yellow centre and a delicate pink at the tips of the petals. Its smell is pleasing and cool, and makes people feel refreshed.These characteristics are also true of the Lao people as they are considered to be sincere, friendly and passionate about their family and friends. The dokchampa blossoms in bunches, and each branch of the tree is composed of many fl owers, which can be said to represent the harmony of the Lao people. But it has become closely associated with our daily life over the generations, to the extent that the country and the fl ower are intertwined.The fl owers are used on special occasions.They appear at bacis, wedding ceremonies, on family prayer altars and in temples. Perhaps the delicate blossoms aremost apparent at Lao New Year.Champa trees fl ower nearly all year round, but are most prolifi c at Lao New Year, when the temperatures soar and the hot air fi lls with their sweet perfume.During the New Year festivities, the fl owers are added to bowls of perfumed water to present to Buddha images, as well as to elderly people. The star-like blooms are also strung together to make necklaces, and gracefully adorn women taking part in Pi Mai ceremonies.In some homes, people fl oat the fl owers on water in a container, which creates a pleasant atmosphere as well as being ornamental. The dokchampa is also widely used in health treatments and spas because of its calming scent. Traditionally, Lao people use the root and trunk of the tree for medicinal purposes.In Lao folklore, the 'four champa tree' is known as the champasiton. The story of this tree is well known and is still recounted today. The tree is known as the tree of immortality and eternity, and can live for well over 100 years.Though not originally from Laos, no one knows for certain how long it has graced the country's landscape.The biggest tree is 12 metres high and 3 metres wide.Another fact that proves the tree has been in Laos for a long time dates back to the reign of King Xaysetthathirath during the Lane Xang Kingdom. It is believed that King Xaysetthathirath and the King of Ayutthaya together planted 15 champa trees at Sisonghakstupa, which bound them to respect each other's territory and sovereignty.An inscription on a stone at the stupa reads: "The generations to come must not violate or dispossess the territory of the other. They must not be greedy or act in a deceitful manner in their interactions until the sun and the moon fall down on this land".Many old champa trees can be seen throughout Laos, especially around people's homes and in old temples.Mr Outama Choulamay, a national artist, wrote the popular song 'Duang Champa Lao'.