There are more than 300 million followers of Buddhism around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’ (to awaken). It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha ( Gautam) known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of thirty five. Buddhism takes as its goal the escape from suffering and from the cycle of rebirth: the attainment of nirvana. Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness. Here is an overview of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world.
1. BOROBUDUR : BOROBUDUR is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the world. This famous Buddhist temple, dating from the eight and ninth centuries, is located on the Indonesian island of Java, 40 km northwest of Yogyakarta . It was constructed in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. It was abandoned in the fourteenth century for reasons that still remain a mystery and for centuries lay hidden in the jungle under layers of volcanic ash. The monument was restored with UNESCO’s help in the 1970s
2. BAGAN : BAGAN, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world. It was the capital of several ancient kings of Burma who built perhaps as many as 4,400 temples during the height of the kingdom (between 1000 and 1200 AD). The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking on spiritual meaning.
3. SHWEDAGON PAGODA : THE SHWEDAGON PAGODA is one of the most prominent pagodas in the world and it is certainly the main attraction of the capital city of Myanmar, Yangon. The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity but it is estimated that the Pagoda was first built by the Mon during the Bagan period, sometime between the sixth and tenth century AD. The temple complex is full of glittering, attractive and colorful stupas but the center of attention is the 99 meter high, main stupa that is completely covered in gold. The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over seven thousand diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires, the whole giddy concoction offset by a massive emerald positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun.
4. MAHABODHI TEMPLE : THE MAHABODHI TEMPLE Complex is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodh Gaya lies 115 km south in Patna, capital city of Bihar. The main complex contains a descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which Gautama Buddha gained enlightenment and is the most sacred place in Buddhism. The first temple was constructed by Emperor Asoka in the third century B.C and the present temple dates from the 5th or 6th centuries. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.
5. BOUDHANATH : BOUDHANATH STUPA is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet Located in a suburb of Kathmandu. Boudhanath is one of the largest stupas in the world. It is the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and many refugees from Tibet have settled here in the last few decades. It is probably best known for the Buddha eyes that are featured on all four sides of the tower. The present stupa is said to date from the 14th century, after the previous one was destroyed by Mughal invaders. From above, Boudhnath Stupa looks like a giant mandala, or diagram of the Buddhist cosmos. And as in all Tibetan mandalas, four of the Dhyani Buddhas mark the cardinal points, with the fifth, Vairocana, enshrined in the center. The five Buddhas also personify the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether), which are represented in the stupa’s architecture.
6. TODAIJI TEMPLE : TODAIJI, a temple complex in the city of Nara in Nara Prefecture, was built in the 8th century by Emperor Shomu as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. At that time Buddhism was at its height, and served as a state religion. The best-known relic at Todaiji Temple is its Daibutsu, a colossal statue that, with 15 meters in height, is the world’s largest gilded bronze Buddha. Buddha statues in Japan and is the world’s largest wooden building, even though it is only two-thirds the size of the original structure. It is housed in an all-wood building, the Daibutsu-den, 48 meters in height, the largest wooden building in the world. Within the precincts of the temple, aligned along one-kilometer north-south and east-west axes centered on the Daibutsu-den, are an array of other buildings, including halls and storehouses, seven of which are National Treasures.
7. JOKHANG : THE JOKHANG TEMPLE in Lhasa is the most important sacred site in Tibetan Buddhism attracting thousands of pilgrims each year. Included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2000 as part of the Potala Palace , the Jokhang Temple is located in central Lhasa. With an area of 25,100 square meters, it is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Pilgrims. The Jokhang Temple is a four-story timber complex with a golden top. It adopted the architectural styles of the Tang Dynasty, as well as those of Tibet and Nepal. The Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), was characterized by economic prosperity and great progress in politics. During this time, China was considered the cultural and political center of the world.
8. PHA THAT LUANG : Svelte and golden PHA THAT LUANG is the most prominent and important national monument in Laos; a symbol of Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. The stupa has many terraces with each level representing a different stage of Buddhist enlightenment. The lowest level represents the material world; the highest level represents the world of nothingness. That Luang was built during the sixteenth century on the ruins of an earlier Khmer temple. The temple was abolished by a Siamese invasion in 1828, then later rebuilt by the French in 1931. A high-walled cloister with tiny windows surrounds the 45m-high stupa. The cloister measures 85m on each side and contains various Buddha images. PHA THAT LUANG is about 4km northeast of the city Centre at the end of that Luang.
9. WAT ARUN : Unbelievably, there are over 31200 Buddhist temples spread around Thailand. In Thai these are called WAT. One of these, the WAT ARUN or the Temple of Dawn, is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn. Sitting majestically on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, the legendary WAT ARUN is one of the most striking riverside landmarks in Bangkok, Thailand. The temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. Despite it’s name, the best views of Wat Arun are in the evening with the sun setting behind it. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism.
10. HAEINSA TEMPLE : Located on Gaya Mountain in Hapcheon-gun region in South Gyeongsang Province, the HAEINSA, this temple is considered as one of the three Jewel Temple of South Korea that represent three jewels of Buddhism- Buddha, dharma and sangh. The temple was first built in 802 and rebuilt in the 19th century after Haiensa was burned down in a fire in 1817. The temple’s greatest treasure however, a complete copy of the Buddhist scriptures (he Tripitaka Koreana) written on 81,258 woodblocks, survived the fire. Legend associated with it say that on their return from China, two Korean monks – Suneung and his disciple Ijeong – found that the king Aejang’s wife was ailing from a tumor. The monks took a piece of string and tied it to the tumor at one end and a tree at the other end. After this they chanted special verses, gradually, the tumor started withering and simultaneously the tree started dying. As the queen became well, the king was filled with gratitude for Buddha’s mercy. To give respect to Buddha and the services offered by the monks, the king decided to build this temple.
11. WAT TRAIMIT : THE WAT TRAIMIT temple in the China Town area of Bangkok is a Royal temple famous for the enormous gold Buddha image it houses. The Golden Buddha was cast sometime in the 13th century and is an excellent example of the gracious Sukhothai style that is still very much in favor to this day. At some point, it was covered in plaster and lacquer, most likely in an attempt to hide the valuable icon from thieves or looters. For centuries the true identity and value of the image were not known, until by accident in the 1950’s it was discovered that the image was made of solid gold. The image is more than three meters high, weighs some five and a half tons and is most likely some 700 to 800 years old. It is the largest solid gold Buddha image in the world. .
12. TIAN TAN BUDDHA : THE TIAN TAN BUDDHA on Lantau Island is the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoor. This majestic statue sits atop the peak of Mount MUK YUE. Po Lin Monastery has taken twelve years to plan and build this bronze Buddha statue that symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth. The Big Buddha Statue has become a major landmark in Hong Kong, attracting numerous local and overseas Buddhists and visitors. It is not only a remarkable work project, but also an outstanding piece in Buddhist sculptural art in recent history. It is a valuable heritage of mankind. Sitting 34 miters high and facing north to look over the Chinese people, this majestic bronze Buddha draws pilgrims from all over Asia.