Shwedagon pagoda in Yangoon, Myanmar

There are essentially three kinds of Buddhist structures: 1) stupas, bell-shaped structures that contain a holy relic or scripture; 2) temples, place of worship somewhat similar to a church; and 3) monasteries, which contain living quarters and meditation cells for monks.

Stupas are solid structures that typically cannot be entered and were constructed to contain sacred Buddhist relics that are hidden from view (and vandals) in containers buried at their core or in the walls. Temples have an open interior that may be entered and in which are displayed one or more cult images as a focus for worship. Although this simple distinction between Stupa and temple is useful, the distinction is not always clear. There are stupas that have the external form of a stupa but are like a temple with an inner corridor and multiple shrines.

Local temples are essentially self sufficient and rely on their own lands and support from the local lay community to keep going. Property belongs to the community. There is not a hierarchy of priest, bishops and archbishops like there is Christianity. The word pagoda is sometimes used to collectively describe stupas and temples but generally refers to Japanese- and Chinese style towers inspired by South Asian stupa. The word pagoda is derived from “dagada” , the word used for relic chamber in Sri Lanka. Classic Japanese- and Chinese-style pagodas usually have multiple stories, each with a graceful, tiled Chinese-style roof, and a top roof capped by a spire. The base represents the earth, the spire symbolizes heaven, and the connecting piece symbolizing the cosmic axis, to the Way.

Monasteries, See Monastery Architecture

20120501-stupa gyantse_stupa_chanez in Tibet Kala.jpg
Gyantse Stupa in Tibet

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ;

Buddhist Art: Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Buddhist Symbols viewonbuddhism.org/general_symbols_buddhism ; Wikipedia article on Buddhist Art Wikipedia ; Guimet Museum in Paris guimet.fr ; Buddhist Artwork buddhanet.net/budart/index ; Asian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Buddhism and Buddhist Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Buddhist Art Huntington Archives Buddhist Art dsal.uchicago.edu/huntington ; Buddhist Art Resources academicinfo.net/buddhismart ; Buddhist Art, Smithsonian freersackler.si.edu

History of Buddhist Temples

Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodhgaya, where Buddha experienced his enlightenment

The word for temple in many languages is the same as cave. Many early Buddhist temples were "artificial caves" that attempted to recreate the atmosphere of Buddhist caves in northern India. Describing what they were probably like, the historian Paul Strachen wrote: In his book “Pagan: Art and Architecture of Old Burma” , "the now spartan brick “gu” [temple]" was "cluttered with regal objects and requisites, a clamor of activity as food offerings were shuttled from the kitchens down passageways crowded with chanting devotees, brightly colored wall paintings, gilded furnishings and flapping banners and hangings...the usual plain, seated Buddha image, found in the deserted temples of Pagan today, would have been bathed, perfumed and dresses with the finest and most costly garments."

The architecture of Buddhist temples is influenced by the architecture of country in which they are found and various traditions of Buddhist architecture. Japanese pagodas, for example, have unique Japanese features that are modeled after Chinese-style pagodas, which in turn were modeled after Indian stupas.

Because ancient wood temples were often destroyed by fire, temples today are usually made of brick and stone with brass and iron ornaments. Chinese pagodas were often built to commemorate important leaders or event or house important artifacts or documents.

Many Buddhist temples are located in the forests and mountains. There are two reason for their remote locations: first, mountains and forest have always been associated with spiritual purity, and second, Buddhist monks were often persecuted and remote location gave them some safety. In China, Japan and Thailand temples are often in the middle of town.


Stupas are generally solid, bell-shaped structures that contain a holy relic such as a hair or tooth from Buddha, relics or remains of eminent Buddhist figure, or a sacred Buddhist scripture. They are modeled on ancient Indian burial mounds. The base of the stupa is often sealed with a copper plate incised with a “vishva-vajra” crossed thunderbolt design that is regarded as protection from evil. Stupas themselves were venerated as symbols of the Buddha.

Dhamekh stupa in Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon

Buddhist stupas symbolize the Buddhist concept of the universe. The solid dome that rises up from the square or circular base is a representation of the dome-shaped sky enclosing the world-mountain, which pierce the dome to form a small balcony at the summit. At the center of the dome is a mast that represents that axis of the earth which rise from the waters that surround the world up to the cosmos. Square bases often also symbolize the earth. The shape of stupas may have been inspired by the staff and begging bowl of the wandering Buddha.

All stupas contain a treasury filled with various objects. Many contain jewelry and other “precious” objects. It is not necessary that the jewelry be expensive. What is important is the symbolic value that is important, not the value in monetray terms. It is believed that the more objects placed into the stupa, the stronger the energy of the Stupa will be. Stupas generally have a Tree of Life, a wooden pole covered with gems and thousands of mantras. It is placed in the central channel of the stupa during a ceremony or initiation, with participants holding colorful ribbons connected to the Tree of Life. These participants pray hard and send their most positive and powerful wishes and blessings, which are stored in the Tree of Life.

History of Stupas

After Buddha’s death his relics were divided and a number of stupas were built to house them. Although no ancient stupas remain the relics they housed are believed to have been saved and placed in other stupas. Many of the oldest stupas date back to the period of Buddhist expansions during the rule of King Ashoka (268-239 B.C.) The objects inside stupas are often unknown. A gold reliquary excavated from a 2nd century B.C. stupa in Bimaran Afghanistan was decorated with images of Buddha and Hindu gods. The reliquary is believed to have contained the ashes of a revered saint or some object he touched.

Stupa developed in India in the 3rd century B.C. and were general objects of worship for Buddhists before the formation of Buddha imagery, sculpture and painting. Sanchi stupa, built near present-day Bhopal, India, is the oldest. It is shaped like a half sphere and built to allow worship around it. The functions of Buddhist stupas were also diffused, and shapes show a variety of styles in each cultural area. [Source: Takashi Sakai, Nihon Kôkogaku, May 20, 2008]

Great Stupa in Sanchi

Stupa is a Sanskrit word that literally means “to heap” or “to pile up.” Some scholars believe that stupas predated Buddhism and originally were mounds of dirt or rocks built to honor dead kings. Later, these scholars say, the Buddha imbued them with spiritual meaning. Sylvia Somerville wrote in her book on stupas: “This explanation runs counter to Buddhist tradition, which maintains that because the stupa conveys enlightened qualities, it could only have been revealed by the mind of enlightenment. …In fact, some stupas, such as the Swayambhunath Stupa in Nepal, are believed to be self-arising expressions of enlightenment.” [Source: “Stupas: Symbols of Enlightened Mind” by Sylvia Somerville]

Stupas are the oldest Buddhist religious monuments. The first Buddhist ones were simple mounds of mud or clay built to enclose relics of Buddha. In the third century B.C., after his conversion to Buddhism, Emperor Asoka ordered the original stupas opened and the remains were distributed among the several thousand stupas he had built. Stupas at the eight places associated with the life of the Buddha were important before Ashoka and continued to after his death. Over time, stupas changed from being funerary monuments to being objects of veneration. As this occurred they also changed in appearance changed also. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Over the centuries many old stupas became pilgrimage sites. Famous ones became the center of complex ceremonial areas. They were often surrounded by a railing with gateways, through which pilgrims entered the ceremonial ground. Stone lions guarded the entrances. Outside vendors sold food and offerings to pilgrims.

Sanchi: Home of the World’s Oldest Stupa

Sanchi (30 miles from Bhopal) is a pilgrimage site that attracts worshipers from all over the world who come to see Buddhist art and architecture that dates back to the third century B.C. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 and regarded as one of the most remarkable archaeological complexes in India, it contains monasteries and the world’s oldest stupa.

According to UNESCO: “On a hill overlooking the plain and about 40 km from Bhopal, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) all in different states of conservation most of which date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“ From the time that the oldest preserved monument on the site (Asoka's column with its projecting capital of lions inspired by Achaemenid art) was erected, Sanchi's role as intermediary for the spread of cultures and their peripheral arts throughout the Maurya Empire, and later in India of the Sunga, Shatavahana, Kushan and Gupta dynasties, was confirmed.

“Sanchi is the oldest extant Buddhist sanctuary. Although Buddha never visited the site during any of his former lives or during his earthly existence, the religious nature of this shrine is obvious. The chamber of relics of Stupa 1 contained the remains of Shariputra, a disciple of Shakyamuni who died six months before his master; he is especially venerated by the occupants of the 'small vehicle' or Hinayana. Having remained a principal centre of Buddhism in medieval India following the spread of Hinduism, Sanchi bears unique witness as a major Buddhist sanctuary to the period from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD.”

The ruins of about 50 monuments have been uncovered, “It would appear that the site was settled in the 3rd century BC at the time that the Emperor Asoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, who had defeated the Macedonian invaders and founded the Maurya dynasty, was converted to Buddhism (c. 250 BC). Asoka, whose queen was from the neighbouring town of Vidisha, founded, or at least embellished, a Buddhist sanctuary located at Sanchi. He also had a stone column more than 12 m high erected with his edicts carved on it.

“To the south of Asoka's column and predating it is an early brick stupa about 20 m in diameter and crowned with stone aedicula; a wooden railing encircles it. Now known as Stupa 1, this monument was enlarged under the Sunga and the Andhra dynasties (2nd and 1st centuries BC) and is the principal monument at Sanchi. It consists of a gigantic mound of sandstone surrounded by sumptuous porticoes with stone railings; its hemispherical dome measures 36.6 m in diameter and is 16.46 m high. It is particularly famous for the extraordinarily rich decorative work on the four monumental gateways (torana) that provide access. Positioned almost exactly in line with the four cardinal points, these gateways transpose into stone the structure of the wooden gateways: two pillars and three architraves reproduce the assembly of two posts joined by three rails.

“The lush carvings, prodigious creations in bas relief, high relief and in the round, are an iconographic treasure trove. The essential theme represented in the decorative work revolves around the former lives of Buddha. Numerous other themes were taken from legends and history. The fresh, wonderfully charming representations of plants, animals and humans, the narrative quality of the stories and the creativity apparent in the fantastic sculptured capitals and cornices combine to make this an unrivalled masterpiece of early Buddhist art. Sanchi has two other famous stupas dating from the Sunga period (2nd century BC). The torana of Stupa 3, executed in the 1st century, are exceptional works. Many other structures are found on the site: within the ruins of a wall dating from the 11th-12th centuries, Sanchi's final years are represented by monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries, all in varying states of preservation. Temples 17 and 45 and monastery 51 are among the most impressive structures.”

Eight Great Stupas

Buddhist Temples

A temple is a place of worship as opposed to a shrine, which is a sacred place for praying. It generally contains an image of Buddha and has a place where Buddhists practice devotional activities. Temples attract large crowds during festivals or if they are famous but otherwise a fairly quiet. They are often sought as places for quiet meditation, with most acts of worship and devotion being done in front of an altar at home.

Buddhist temples are generally a cluster of buildings — whose number and size depends on the size of the temple — situated in an enclosed area. Large temples have several halls, where people can pray, and living quarters for monks. Smaller ones have a single hall, a house fore a resident monk and a bell. Some have cemeteries.

Temples can be several stories high and often have steeply sloped roofs are often supported by elaborately-decorated and colorfully-painted eaves and brackets. The main shrines often contain a Buddha statue, boxes of sacred scriptures, alters with lit candles, burning incense and other offerings as well as images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and devas. The central images depends on the sect.

Buddhist temples come in many shapes and sizes. Pagodas found in China and Japan are perhaps the best known. Stupas, stone structure built over Buddhist scriptures or relics of the Buddha or famous holy men, are found throughout the Buddhist world. . Buddhist temples are designed to symbolise the five elements: 1) Fire, 2) Air, 3) Earth, symbolised by the square base, 4) Water, and 5)Wisdom, symbolised by the pinnacle at the top of the temple. All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha. [Source: BBC]

People sometimes donate money to temples and have their names hung on special wooden plaques attached to lanterns of the temple. Generally, the larger the donation, the larger the plaque. Buddha never viewed himself as an object of worship. He probably would not have been very pleased to see his birthday as the object of veneration and merit so crassly exchanged for money.

Many temples are tourist attractions and outing destinations for local people. Souvenir amulets and other offerings are sold in little shops or booths; the names of large contributors are placed in special boxes; and priests are available to perform special rites.

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Angkor Wat, a Hindu-Buddhist temple

Features of Buddhist Temples

Buddhist temples usually contain numerous Buddha statues. The central Buddha images are often surrounded by burning incense sticks and offerings of fruit and flowers. Some contain the ashes or bone reliquaries of popular holy man. Many Buddhist temples face south and sometimes to the east, but never to the north and west which are regarded as unlucky directions according to Chinese feng shui. Many temples are entered through the left door and exited through the right.

The main hall is usually found at the center of the temple grounds. Inside are images of the Buddha, other Buddhist images, altars and space for monks and worshipers. The main hall is sometimes connected to a lecture hall, where monks gather to study and chant sutras.. Other buildings include a the sutra depositor, a library or place where Buddhist scripture are kept; living, sleeping, and eating areas for monks, and offices. Large temples often have special halls, where treasures are kept and displayed.

Some temples have shrines for making prayers to the dead filled with funerary plaques with photographs of dead relatives. The photographs are often of deceased people whose funeral ceremony was performed at the temple. Some temple feature sets of wooden plaques with the names of large contributors and other sets with afterlife names of deceased people. In the old days the afterlife names were only given only to Buddhist priests but now they are given to lay people who paid the right price and now in some places have become a kind of ranking system in the after life based in how much one has contributed..

Many Buddhist temples contain large bells, which are rung during the New Year and to mark other occasions, and cemeteries. The pathway to the temples is often lined with stone or paper lanterns donated by worshipers, or strung with prayer flags. Many temples are filled with small shops selling religious items.

Buddhist Temple Gates

Buddhist temples usually have outer gates and inner gates protected by statues or paintings of beasts, fierce gods, or warriors that ward off evil spirits. The gateways are composed of wood, stone, bronze or even concrete. The beasts include Chinese lions and Korean dogs. Fierce guardian gods and warriors on the outer gate sometime have lighting bolts coming out of their nostrils and a serrated swords in their hands. Their duty is to keep demons and evil spirits out of the temple area.

The inner gate at the antechamber to the temple complex is often guarded by four guardian kings, representing the four cardinal directions. The king in the north holds a pagoda representing earth, heaven and cosmic axis. The king in the east holds a sword with the power to evoke a black wind that produces tens of thousands of spears and golden serpents. The king in the west possesses lute. And the king in the south holds a dragon and a wish-fulfilling jewel.

20120501-Buddhist Temple JNTO _01.gif

Some demon statues are covered with spitballs from worshipers who wrote prayers or petitions on pieces of paper, chewed them, and threw them on the demon statues in hope that the prayers would be answered. Usually they are fold paper.

World's Oldest Buddhist Shrine — Dating to the Buddha’s Time — Found in Nepal

In 2013, archaeologists said that structure inside Mayadevi temple in Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, dated to the sixth century B.C. — when Buddha is believed to have been alive Associated Press reported: “Archaeologists in Nepal say they have discovered traces of a wooden structure dating from the sixth century B.C. which they believe is the world's oldest Buddhist shrine. Kosh Prasad Acharya, who worked with archaeologists from Durham University, said that the structure had been unearthed inside the sacred Mayadevi temple in Lumbini. The Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, is generally thought to have been born in about the sixth century BC at the temple site. The findings were published in the December issue of the journal Antiquity. [Source: Associated Press, November 26, 2013 )~(]

“Acharya said the traces had been date tested using radiocarbon and luminescence techniques. The archaeological team dug underneath previously known brick structures in the temple, and experts from the University of Stirling examined and collected the samples, he said. The team has been working at the site for the past three years. The site at Lumbini had been hidden under the jungle until it was excavated in 1896. )~(

“Previously, a pillar installed by the Indian emperor Ashok with inscriptions dating to the third century BC was considered to be the oldest Buddhist structure, Acharya said. "This finding further strengthens the chronology of Buddha's life and was is major news for the millions of Buddhists around the world," Acharya said. "Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition," a Durham University archaeologist, Robin Coningham, said. "Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C."” )~(

Coningham and his team of 40 archaeologists discovered the tree shrine while what was initially supposed to restoration work Lumbini. "It has real significance," Coningham told The Guardian. "What we have for the first time is something that puts a date on the beginning of the cult of Buddhism. That gives us a really clear social and economic context... It was a time of huge transition where traditional societies were being rocked by the emergence of cities, kings, coins and an emerging middle class. It was precisely at that time that Buddha was preaching renunciation – that wealth and belongings are not everything." [Source: Elizabeth Day, The Guardian, December 1 2013 +/+]

Elizabeth Day wrote in The Guardian: “The early years of the religion took hold before the invention of writing. As a result, different oral traditions had different dates for the Buddha's birth. This is the first concrete evidence that Buddhism existed before the time of Asoka, an Indian emperor who enthusiastically embraced the religion in the third century BC. Legend has it that the Buddha's mother, Maya Devi, was travelling from her husband's home to that of her parents. Midway in her journey, she stopped in Lumbini and gave birth to her son while holding on to the branch of a tree. The research team believe they have found evidence of a tree in the ancient shrine beneath a thick layer of bricks. According to Coningham, it became clear that the temple, 20km from the Indian border, had been built "directly on top of the brick structure, incorporating or enshrining it". +/+

20120501-Buddhist Temple JNTOe_03.gif

Chinese Buddhist Temples

Buddhist temples are generally a cluster of buildings — whose number and size depends on the size of the temple — situated in an enclosed area. Large temples have several halls, where people can pray, and living quarters for monks. Smaller ones have a single hall, a house for a resident monk and a bell. Some have cemeteries.

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “ Before the end of the fifth century there were reportedly more than 10,000 temples in China, north and south. Some were undoubtedly small, modest temples, but in the cities many were huge complexes with pagodas, Buddha halls, lecture halls, and eating and sleeping quarters for monks, all within walled compounds. These temple complexes provided a place for the faithful to come to pay homage to images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and meet with clergy. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

The best evidence of the interior decoration of early temples is found in the surviving cave temples. Although only a few wooden buildings have survived from the Tang period or earlier, hundreds of cave temples have survived. Here we offer glimpses of the three most famous cave temple complexes, Dunhuang in Gansu Province, Yungang in Shanxi Province, and Longmen in Henan Province.

“The temples at which most Chinese monks and lay Buddhists worshipped were made of wood, built to last at most a few centuries. Some were in the mountains, built for monks who wished to remove themselves from the clamor of everyday life. Lay Buddhists might make pilgrimages to these mountain temples, but there were also Buddhist temples much closer at hand in every town and city. There are no extant urban temple complexes dating from Tang times, though there are some in Japan that were based on Chinese models. “

Temples can be several stories high and often have steeply sloped roofs that are supported on elaborately-decorated and colorfully-painted eaves and brackets. The main shrines often contain a Buddha statue, boxes of sacred scriptures, alters with lit candles, burning incense and other offerings as well as images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and devas. The central images depends on the sect.

Buddhist temples usually have red pillars while Taoist temples have black ones. Just inside a Buddhist temple gates are statues or images of the Four Heavenly Kings of the Four Directions and Maitreya, the chubby laughing Buddha. The main hall features three large statues seated on lotus flowers: the Buddhas of the past, present and future. Behind them is often a statue of Guanyin, the multi-armed Goddess of Mercy.

Many temples are funded by donations with large amounts of money for prestigious temples coming from Buddhists in Hong Kong and Taiwan and elsewhere around the world. Some Chinese Buddhist temples invite Tibetan monks in an effort to attract to more followers.

Fawant Temple, second oldest in China

Japanese Buddhist Temples

There are 70,000 Buddhist temples in Japan. They are places of worship not shrines (sacred places for praying). Shrines are usually associated with Shintoism. A temple generally contains an image of Buddha and has a place where Buddhists practice devotional activities. Temples attract large crowds during festivals or if they are famous but otherwise a fairly quiet. They are often sought as places for quiet meditation, with most acts of worship and devotion being done in front of an altar at home.

Buddhist temples are generally clusters of buildings, whose number and size depends on the size of the temple. Large temples have several halls, where people can pray, and living quarters for monks. Smaller ones have a single hall, a house for a resident monk and a bell. Some have cemeteries.

The architecture of Buddhist temples is influenced by the architecture of Korea and China, the two countries that introduced Buddhism to Japan.

Early Japanese Buddhist temples consisted of pagodas, which were modeled after Chinese-style pagodas, which in turn were modeled after Indian stupas. Over time these pagodas became one building in a large temple complex with many buildings.

Buddhist temples built in the 7th century featured vermillion-painted columns and eaves supported and decorated with mythical beasts sculpted in "dry-lacquer" (layers of hemp cloth glued together and covered with lacquer) or guilt bronze. Unfortunately no original examples of this style of architecture remains. The earliest Buddhist paintings had a strong Indian influence.

Large Kyoto temples, such as Chionin temple — the head temple of Jodoshu Buddhism? have no danka (community-support system) and are run like large companies. The 150 priests who work at Chionin receive a salary from the temple. The majority of the salaried priests have their own small temples elsewhere, but the support of their danka alone is not enough. They use their Chionin salaries to subsidize their own small temples, much like Sakakibara used his salary from the university to sustain his temple.

Japanese style pagoda

Borobudur: the Ultimate Buddhist Temple

Borobudur, in Central Java, Indonesia, is the biggest Buddhist monument in the world. It was built during over a half century by the Sailendra Dynasty after Mahayana Buddhism was introduced from the Srivijaya Kingdom of South Sumatra in the early half of the 8th century AD. Many Buddhism images and reliefs in Borobudur were made referencing Gandavyuha and Vajrayana/Esoteric Buddhism from Sri Lanka and East India. [Source: Takashi Sakai, Nihon Kôkogaku, May 20, 2008]

The stepped pyramid shape without an inner space as found at Borobudur is found in neither India nor Sri Lanka. And there are no stupas with that similar shape in Southeast Asia prior to Borobudur. Similar shaped monuments are found only in South Sumatra etc. This type of monument, originating from the mountain religions of Megalithic culture that predated the introduction of Buddhism continued through the Historical Age. Borobudur can be seen as a massive monument of this origin, decorated in Buddhism style.

Borobudur, ranks with Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Asia, if not the in world. The eminent Dutch archaeologist A.J. Bernet Kempers called it "a Buddhist mystery in stone. An actual meeting of Mankind and the Holy. A shining tower of the law." It’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word "Vihara Buddha Uhr" which means "Buddhist monastery on the hill." Borobudur is located in Muntilan, Magelang, in the Kedu Valley, in the southern part of Central Java. It is about 100 kilometers from Semarang.

Borobudur is a square 123 meters (403 feet) on each side and 32 meters (105 feet) high.Constructed of unmortared grey andosite and volcanic basalt stone and surrounded by lush green fields of the Kedu Plain and tourist infrastructure, it is about the size of a stadium, and took about 80 years to build. Four large volcanos, including the often-smoking Mount Merapi, and numerous hills are visible in the distance. The temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India's influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

Borobudur is a step pyramid, built around a natural hill, comprised of a broad platforms topped by five walled rectangular terraces, and they in turn are topped by three round terraces. Each terraces is outlined with ornaments and statues and the walls are decorated with bas reliefs. More than two million blocks of volcanic stone were carved during its construction. Pilgrims have traditionally walked around the monument in a clockwise manner moving up each of the five levels, and in process covering five kilometers.

Borobudur, northwest view

Wats (Buddhist Temples in Southeast Asia)

A wat is a monastery temple in Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos set up as a place where men and women can be ordained as monks and nuns. “Wat” is a Thai word of Pali-Sanskrit derivation that means "school" or more accurately “dwelling” for students and monks. Almost every town, village precinct has at least one. Without an ordination area, which is designated by special markers, a building is technically not a wat but rather a residence for monks and nuns.

Strictly speaking a wat is a Buddhist sacred precinct with monks' quarters, the temple proper, an edifice housing a large image of Buddha, and a structure for lessons. A Buddhist site without a minimum of three resident monks cannot correctly be described as a wat, although the term is frequently used more loosely, even for ruins of ancient temples. (As a transitive or intransitive verb, wat means to measure, to take measurements; compare templum, from which temple derives, having the same root as template.) [Source: Wikipedia; “Culture Shock! Thailand “ ]


p class="linkbox"> See Separate Articles WATS (TEMPLES) AND THERAVADA BUDDHIST RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS IN THAILAND factsanddetails.com Image Sources: Wikicommons Media, Japanese National Tourist Organization

Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2019

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