Through the generosity of its many members and supporters, Wat Lao Sithammaram of Hawaii in Waipahu has finally finished renovations on its new temple.
“We’ve received donations from members of the Lao and Thai community both in Hawaii and on the Mainland,” shared abbot (monk leader) Inpeng Siphanthorn. “People will post things on our Facebook page, and then people from other temples on the Mainland will see it and send us donations. We have connections between the different temples.
“Also, Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa is a big supporter of Wat Lao Sithammaram of Hawaii and has given monetary donations to help in the temple’s success.”
Originally founded in 1982 by venerable Bounkong Singsouvanh in Palolo Valley, Wat Lao Sithammaram of Hawaii started with 400 to 500 members and has since grown to 800 to 1,000 members. In 1991, the temple relocated to Kalihi where it eventually outgrew its space, and in 2011 moved to a bigger building on more land in Waipahu.
“The temple is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” noted Siphanthorn. “It’s open to the public.
Anyone who wants to come can just come in and pray or get your blessings.”
The temple also plans to hold free monthly events for the community, with entertainment and food provided, including many traditional Lao foods. Visiting the temple is always free, and all events are open to the public, however, donations in any amount are accepted. The next celebration is scheduled for April 11 and 12, which is the Water Festival to celebrate the Lao New Year. Typically taking place in mid-April, the Lao New Year is one of the most spirited holidays of the year with festivities lasting from a few days to a week or even longer in certain parts of Laos.
Located at 94-127 Waikele Road (across the street from Waipahu Intermediate School where overflow parking is available), Wat Lao Sithammaram of Hawaii practices the teaching of Buddhism, and strives to carry on the Lao culture from generation to generation. Throughout the year, you’ll find many Laotians, Thai, Cambodians and Buddhism followers at the temple for worship or to celebrate various Lao festivals.
Siphanthorn, who was born and raised in Laos, was ordained a monk at just 12 years old in the city of Luang Prabang. He continued his studies in Thailand, and graduated from Khon Kaen University before returning to Laos where he became a monk teacher to underprivileged children in rural areas.
In 2005, he was sponsored by Singsouvanh to come to Hawaii and teach Buddhism. But during his visit, he fell in love with the Islands and decided to stay, even becoming a U.S. citizen earlier this year. “I like the weather, the people, and the ocean too,” he said.
The new temple, which is approximately 17,710 square feet, took three years to renovate and has a symbolic orange exterior — the same color as the robes worn by the temple’s monks.
It’s a South East Asian style temple with traditional roof ornaments that are unique in design to each temple, and signify that it’s a Buddhist temple. “The ornament sculpture that is set up on the shrine of our temple symbolizes the middle path to Heaven and points up toward the sky, and signifies the devotees praying to the Buddha, the Dharma, the disciples or monks and all of the Gods and angels in Heaven,” explained Siphanthorn, who designed the gold colored ornaments. “There are nine layers of sculpture, which is considered true Lao handcraft.”
Siphanthorn also designed the layout and architecture of the temple, but credits its former monk leader, Singsouvanh, for envisioning it.
“He helped to move us here,” he said.
Currently there are three monks who reside at the temple, and Siphanthorn said they’re available every day, any time of the day. Their mission is to make a positive difference in the community and its people through their teaching and beliefs.
“We just want to make this temple the center of the community,” he said, “a place where people can come for support and guidance, and to learn about our culture.”