Some are rich with history, others are blessed with fine aesthetics, and yet all were exquisitely crafted.
From its humble beginnings in India and eventual spread across the universe, the teachings of one Siddharta Gautama Buddha has contributed to a significant evolution in the history of modern humanity. Let these beautiful Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia provide you with a peek into this wonderful, highly philosophical system of beliefs.
1. Borobudur Temple, Central Java
Along the scenic mountain ranges of Central Java in Indonesia lies one of the most famous ancient Buddhist temples, the Borobudur temple. Constructed with three tiers that symbolise kamadhatu (the spheres of desire), rupadhatu (the spheres of form), and arupadhatu (the spheres of formlessness), the highlight of the complex is the central monumental stupa surrounded by 72 openwork stupas, each with a statue of the Buddha. Built in the 9th century, it was abandoned in the 14th century, rediscovered in the 19th century, and restored in the 20th century, earning its rightful inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
This splendid gold-plated and diamond-encrusted 99-metre monument is considered by many to be the heart of Yangon. Believed to be at least 2,500 years old, Shwedagon Pagoda has undergone refurbishments due to earthquakes, abandonment, and also the great fire that happened in 1931. And yet the pristine essence of it remains, enshrined with hair strands of Siddharta Gautama Buddha, as well as relics from other Buddhas. Best visited at the break of dawn when monks and pilgrims meditate or perform circumambulation, or when twilight comes, to view the brilliant contrast of gold amidst the electric blue sky.
3. Wat Arun, Bangkok
Also known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s iconic cultural landmarks, standing proud along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Possibly the best (and most fun) way to get here is by taking a boat, from which you will see the 104-metre high elongated prang, a Khmer-style tower. Despite its name, which was derived from Aruna, the Indian God of the Dawn, the best views of Wat Arun are in the evening when the red sky sets directly behind the temple.
4. Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur
Set amidst one of Kuala Lumpur city’s leafy areas, the Thean Hou Temple is a delight to visit, with great views of the city centre from inside the temple compounds. The colour red is the main hue here, symbolising prosperity and can be seen on the flared out roofs, decorative beams, and tall pillars. Blending in harmony with Buddhist elements are Taoist and Confusian principles, whilst the courtyard are decorated with statues of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac. Constructed between 1981 and 1987, the temple is a relatively new kid on the block, but serves as a beautiful place of worship as well as celebrations, especially during the Chinese New Year when pretty lanterns are lighted up at night.
5. Pha That Luang, Vientiane
Such is the importance of Pha That Luang that no other building in Vientiane is allowed to be taller than it. Built in 1566, this gilded stupa is entwined with interesting tales, including the patronage of King Ashoka of India, a devout Buddhist follower who sent missionaries and monks to gift Buddha relics to be enshrined there. Although it has faced many attacks from repeated invasions of the land, this national symbol of Laos still stands proud, with the latest reconstruction in 1930.
6. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore
A lovely jewel in the heart of Chinatown in Singapore, this temple is a good place to gain insight into Buddhism, and marvel at the intricate elements of Buddhist art, as well as priceless relics, including the Buddha’s tooth and ancient sutras. Attention to detail and careful planning were emphasised in the architecture, incorporating Buddhist elements such as the mandala-based layout and at the same time complying with Singapore’s stringent building standards. The result is a dazzling temple that is not only a stunner that hosts invaluable artefacts, but also a place that evokes an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in the middle of a bustling city.
7. Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai
White is the dominant colour here – white bridge, white ubosot (main praying hall), white statues of mythical figures – so it makes perfect sense that Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai is also dubbed as The White Temple. This temple is more artistic than historic, but it doesn’t make it any less fascinating. The colour was chosen to symbolise the purity of the Buddha, whilst the overall message conveys the Buddhist principle of eliminating desire, attachment and greed from the worldly life in order to attain liberty through enlightenment.
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