The Phra Bang ("Royal Buddha Image in the Dispelling Fear mudra)," Lao ພະ + ບາງ) is the palladium of Laos. The Lao-language name for the image has been transliterated in a number of ways, including "Pra Bang," "Prabang," "Phabang" and "Pha Bang." The statue is an 83cm-high standing Buddha with palms facing forward, cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf. According to local lore, it was cast in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sometime between the 1st and 9th century. However, the features of the image suggest a much later Khmer origin. The Phra Bang arrived in Lan Xang in 1353 from Angkor and was used to spread Theravada Buddhism in the new kingdom. In 1359 the Khmer king gave the Phra Bang to his son-in-law, the first Lang Xang monarch Fa Ngum (1353-1373); to provide Buddhist legitimacy both to Fa Ngum's rule and by extension to the sovereignty of Laos. The former Lao capital Luang Prabang, where it was kept, is named after the Buddha image.
The Phra Bang has long been seen by devout Buddhists as a symbol of the right to rule Laos, as only a commendable and virtuous government deserves to be caretaker of such a sacred image. In 1778, the Siamese (now Thai) invaded Viang Chan and captured the Phra Bang, taking it back to Bangkok. There, political upheaval and misfortune were attributed to the Phra Bang, and in 1782 it was returned to the Lao people. Again in 1828, the Siamese captured the Phra Bang but again returned it in 1867 after a similar of political upheaval.
As of September 2006, the Phra Bang is temporarily located in a room in the Royal Palace Museum (Haw Kham) in Luang Prabang, while a new temple (known as the Haw Phra Bang) is being constructed for it nearby, within the Royal Palace grounds. Construction of the new temple is almost complete, and the Phra Bang should be installed in the pavilion in the very near future. Each year, on the third day of "Pimai" or Lao New Year, the Phra Bang is taken in procession to Wat Mai. There it is exhibited at a shrine where the Buddha image is ritually bathed by devout laypeople during Lao New Year festivities.
There remains doubt whether the image in the museum is the same object that was given to Fa Ngum. Some suggest that the image on display is a copy and that the original is kept in a bank vault in Vientiane for safekeeping. Another local rumor suggests that the Phra Bang was given to the Soviets in 1975 in exchange for aid during the Cold War. Whether or not there is any substance to the rumors, the Phra Bang remains an object of veneration and a reminder of the rich traditions of Luang Prabang.