Explore the different types of buddhist temples & learn about its significance
You have seen many buddhist temples. But you have no clue the purpose of any such temple. You want to attain a buddhist festival but not sure where to go to witness it.
There are countless articles on the web about buddhist temples but they are all the same.
It’s so confusing.
Well, here’s the good news.
Through this post I’ll guide you with the different types of buddhist temples with examples, its purpose & the buddhist festivals that are celebrated.
Everything explained here is in simple language for your better understanding.
A Buddhist monument is a structure that has been erected to commemorate Lord Buddha. A Buddhist temple is a place for praying which is very similar to the temples of the other culture.
Buddhist temples generally contain an image of buddha where they practice their devotional activities. You can enter a temple for quiet meditation or prayer.
Usually, Buddhist temples are a cluster of buildings in different sizes. Large temples have many halls for people to pray & living quarters for monks, while the smaller ones have a single hall, a house for a resident monk & a bell.
These temples have a statue of Buddha with candles & burning incense sticks. Buddhist temples symbolize the five elements: Fire, Air, Earth is symbolized by the square base. Water and Wisdom are symbolized by the pinnacle at the top of the temple.
There are five types of Buddhist monuments:
The Sanskrit meaning of stupa is “heap”. Stupas are solid structures where you cannot enter. It is constructed to house the relics of Lord Buddha. It is also a place of worship for many Buddhists.
There are five types of stupas:
- Relic stupas: It houses the relics of Buddha
- Object stupas: It houses the objects that belong to Buddha or his disciples
- Commemorative stupas, built for celebrating events associated with the life of Buddha and his disciples
- Symbolic stupas symbolize various aspects of Buddhist theology
- Votive stupas, constructed to gain spiritual benefits.
A stupa is considered to be a sepulchral architecture, a place of burial. In Buddhism, the earliest stupas contained relics of the Buddha, thus activating it with the energy of the Buddha himself.
The base of the dome-shaped stupa represents buddha’s crossed legs as he sat in a meditative pose. The middle portion is the Buddha’s body and the top portion of the mound, where a pole rises from the apex, represents his head.
After Buddha’s death, his relics were divided and were housed in different stupas which were built at locations associated with important events in his life.
It includes Lumbini (where he was born), Bodh Gaya (where he achieved Enlightenment), Deer Park located at Sarnath (where he preached the Four Noble Truths also known as the dharma), and Kushinagar (where he died).
Check out the below list of top 5 famous Stupa around the world
- Ruwanwelisaya Stupa Of Sri Lanka
It was built by King Dutugemunu in around 140BC. It existed as a ruin during the 19th century and was renovated in the 20th century.
- Borobudur Stupa Of Magelang
It was built in the 9th century as a Buddhist temple during the Sailedera Dynasty. It has about 500 statues of the Buddha.
This stupa serves as both a shrine for the Buddha as well as a pilgrimage place for the Buddhists. It has been identified as a UNESCO world heritage site.
One Hundred And Eight Stupas Of Ningxia, China: This array of Buddhist stupas were constructed by the Western Xia.
The stupas have been arranged in twelve rows, each with an odd number of stupas. The number 108 and the odd numbers are significant in Buddhism.
These stupas have undergone many renovations over the centuries, so they have lost some of their original characteristics.
- Shingardar Stupa Of Swat valley
It was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries by a king of Swat to store relics of Buddha.
- Bharhut Stupa of Satna
It was constructed by King Ashok in the third century. Larger parts of the stupa have been destroyed with only the founding pillars left standing.
The parts of the stupa have been preserved in the Indian Museum at Calcutta.
Some of the oldest Stupa around the world are Sanchi Stupa & the Amaravati Stupa.
- Sanchi Stupa is famous for its Great Stupa which is located at the hilltop of Sanchi town in Madhya Pradesh, India.
The Great stupa which was commissioned by King Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE is considered to be the oldest stone structure in India.
- The Amaravati Stupa is a ruined Buddhist monument that has been built in phases between the third century BCE and about 250 CE.
The site is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.
& the largest Stupa around the world is the Borobudur Temple & Kesariya Stupa.
- Borobudur Temple located in Indonesia is a stepped pyramid with three major levels. The levels are a square base, a middle level with 5 square terraces, and an upper level that comes with 3 circular terraces.
At the center of this structure is a large stupa at a height of 115 feet above the base of the temple.
- Kesariya Stupa which is located Champaran district of Bihar was constructed in the 3rd century BCE.
Kesariya Stupa has a circumference of approximately 400 feet and raises to a height of about 104 feet.
A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves which is quite common in Japan, China, Nepal, Korea and other parts of Asia. In Thailand, a pagoda usually means the same as stupa whereas, in Vietnam, the pagoda refers to a place of worship.
Bodh Gaya in Bihar & the Bagan temple, Bagan, Myanmar are the oldest pagoda.
Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. Mahabodhi temple is the centerpiece at Bodh Gaya. It is the holiest site for Buddhists.
The Bagan temple is made up of 2200 Buddhist stupas, pagodas & other religious buildings. Visitors can freely explore them inside out.
The modern pagoda is an evolution of the Indian stupa. Pagodas' main attraction is its height. This tendency has played an important role in their perception of spiritually charged places.
While most of the pagodas were built for religious purposes, it can also be used for enjoying distant views & for military supervision as watchtowers or as navigational aids to travelers and ships.
Some pagodas like the Three Pagodas in Dali, have also become symbols of their locality.
Top 5 of famous pagoda around the world:
- Vishwa Shanti Stupa, Rajgir, India
It is also known as World Peace Pagoda. It is located on a hilltop, with a golden statue of Lord Buddha.
- Golden Pagoda, in Arunachal Pradesh
The Golden Pagoda is nestled in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas. This is famous for its 12 domes. Golden Pagoda also serves as a venue for the Kathina festival which is celebrated in the month of November.
- Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian, China
It was built in 652 for housing figurines of the Buddha which had been brought back to China by the Buddhist traveler Xuanzang. This pagoda was built from bricks, without using cement.
- Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam
It is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, which is located on a small peninsula of West Lake. The pagoda’s lakeside setting is very enchanting.
- Toji Pagoda, Kyoto, Japan
This 57 meters tall pagoda is built by Kobo Daishi in 826. The beautiful setting & its graceful lines have made it a symbol of the city.
Below is the largest pagoda around the world:
- Borobudur Temple in Indonesia is 34.5 m (113 ft) tall with 504 statues of Buddha.
- Tianning Temple is located in the southwestern part of Beijing. It is a 13-story, 57.8-meter-tall, octagonal pagoda made of brick and stone.
It is a community of people who have dedicated their lives to religious practice. In the early years of Buddhism, monks dedicated themselves to an ascetic life where they wandered the country with no permanent living quarters.
During this time they were fed with clothes & food and were housed in inclement weather by the local people. Later monastic complexes were built for the monks close enough to a town in order to receive charity from the villagers, but far enough so as not to be disturbed during meditation.
In India, many monasteries were built as learning centers. These sites include Lumbini where Lord Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya is the place where he achieved enlightenment and gained knowledge of the dharma, Sarnath where he preached his first religious talk and Kushingara is where he died.
Check out the below list of top 5 famous monasteries around the world:
- Taktsang or Tiger's Nest Monastery, Bhutan
It is situated on the edge of a 900 m cliff and has been symbolic of Bhutan. This monastery can be accessed by road & then followed by a two to three hours trek from the parking lot.
- Key Gompa, Spiti Valley, India
This Monastery is a 1,000-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monastery which is situated on the hilltop. The path leading to the monastery has parts of the structure which has gone through many destruction and restorations, which has resulted in a box-like structure.
The monastery now looks like forts with temples, built on top of one another.
- Hanging Monastery, China
This monastery is suspended halfway up a cliff, some 75 m above the ground. It consists of a complex with 40 rooms which are linked together by mid-air corridors and walkways.
- Taung Kalat, Burma
It is built on the top of an extinct volcano cap. To reach this monastery, you have to climb the 777 steps to reach the top. The summit offers a beautiful panoramic view of the place.
- Thikse Monastery, India
It is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located at an altitude of 3,600 m in the Indus valley. This monastery is a 12-story complex which houses beautiful pieces of Buddhist art in the form of stupas, statues and wall paintings.
The largest monasteries around the world are Tawang Monastery
& Lama Temple.
- Tawang Monastery is located in Arunachal Pradesh on the top of a mountain at an altitude of 10,000 ft. It gives a beautiful panoramic view of the entire Tawang River Valley.
- Lama Temple which is situated in the northeastern part of Beijing is considered to be one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.
The temple consists of a 26 m high statue of Maitreya Buddha which has been carved from a single piece of white sandalwood.
· Cave temple
These are the earliest examples of Buddhist architecture that were found in Sri Lanka. The most famous one is the Dambulla temple complex dating to the first century BCE.
The Buddhist cave temples in India are an important part of Indian rock-cut architecture.
There are more than 1,500 rock-cut structures in India, out of which approximately 1000 of them were made by Buddhists.
In India, caves have long been regarded as a place of sanctity. These sites were chosen for their scenic beauty. Buddhist cave temples were excavated by Buddhist monks for prayer and residential purposes.
These cave temples are used as a place for worship & meditation by the monks who reside there and also by the visiting travelers.
It is a Buddhist shrine that has a stupa inside it. There is a large hall made for the gathering of a large number of devotees. A chaitya is considered to be the earliest form of a stupa.
A chaitya was built by cutting a single piece of massive rock. The halls are rectangular with polished interior walls with a semi-circular roof.
The hall is decorated with motifs & symbolic. It is used for prayer, meditation & discussion purposes.
People irrespective of their religion love visiting Buddhist festivals. One of the major reasons why people love visiting Buddhist monuments is, Buddhist festivals depict the core principles of peace, non-violence, and detachment from material pleasures.
These principles help people come out of the stresses of modern life which holds a greater application for the younger generation.
The followers of this religion celebrate these festivals with great devotion. People love witnessing these festivals as they can gain insight into the “Buddhist way of living”.
Check out the below list of famous chaitya around the world:
- Karle Chaitya
It is a complex of early Buddhist Indian rock-cut caves situated at Karli near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The shrines have been developed from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. This has a large Chaitya and three Viharas.
- Nasik Chaitya
There is one Chaitya & 16 Viharas situated in Nasik, Maharashtra. Human figures are inscribed on the pillars and on the rooftop of Viharas.
- Junnar Vihara
One of the Junnar Vihara is known as ‘Ganeshleni’. The stupa was made at a later stage making it a Chaitya Vihara.
- Bhaja Chaitya
It is a group of 22 rock-cut caves located in Pune, Maharashtra. It was developed in the 2nd century BC. The caves are 400 feet above the village of Bhaja, on an important ancient trade route that runs from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau.
- Pitalkhora Chaitya
It is situated on the hills of Satmata of khandesh. It is an ancient Buddhist site that consists of 14 rock-cut cave monuments dating to the third century BCE. Relics are kept inside the Chaitya.
Famous Buddhist festivals to celebrate:
Buddhism is now followed by people from various backgrounds irrespective of the religion they belong to. Buddhist festivals reflect the culture, lifestyle, and rituals that are followed by Buddhists.
Below is a list of such prominent Buddhist festivals that showcase the depth of the religion.
- Buddha Purnima
Buddha Purnima is also known as Buddha Jayanti is considered to be the most auspicious Buddhist festival as it marks the birth of Lord Buddha, his enlightenment and death.
The festival usually falls on the day of the full moon. In this, prayers are conducted at temples and other Buddhist places. Nepal, which is the birthplace of Lord Buddha, carries huge processions by monks.
Temples get decorated with lights, flowers, offerings of butter lamps, rice coins and flowers that are offered by devotees. The followers discuss the teachings of Lord Buddha and its application in the modern world.
- Hemis Festival
It is the most vibrant Buddhist festival that you must witness for a deeper understanding of the religion.
To honor the birthday of Lord Padmasambhava, who conquered the evil forces, this event is celebrated every year in June in Ladakh.
Photo credit: Flickr /Amiya/ CC BY 2.0
The festival is a two-day event with large processions and is played at Hemis monastery which signifies the victory of good over evil.
The music with masked dances and colors displayed in this festival gives a peek into the rituals and traditions that are observed by Buddhists in the Ladakh region.
Next Festival date: 30th June – 7th July 2020
- Losar Festival
This festival has great significance for Tibetan Buddhists because it marks the arrival of Tibetan New Year. It is celebrated at prominent Buddhist sites in India and Nepal.
It’s one lively event that showcases Buddhist rituals and culture with a series of colorful performances.
The brightest form of this festival is observed in Ladakh, Sikkim & Arunachal Pradesh where a huge population gathers for witnessing this grand celebration.
In Nepal, this festival is observed by different communities who celebrate this festival in their own unique way. These communities have given a different name to this festival like Sonam Lochar, Tamu Lochar, and Gyalpo Lochar.
If you attend these three versions of the New Year festival it will give you plenty of avenues for understanding the distinct aspects of Buddhist culture.
Next date for Losar Festival: 24th – 26th February 2020
- Lumbini Festival
In this festival, Buddhist teachings are observed in Andhra Pradesh. It is named after the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Through this festival, you can gain insight into the customs and traditions that are followed by Buddhists.
Apart from portraying the Buddhist religion, this festival is a perfect conglomeration of art, culture, and cuisine of Andhra Pradesh. The exhibition & crafts displayed at this three-day event is a major crowd puller.
The actual venue of the Lumbini festival is Nagarjunasagar near Hyderabad.
Festival Date: 13th – 15th December 2019
- Parinirvana Day
This festival marks the death of Lord Buddha to honor the ideology set by him that death should not be mourned. The day is spent with prayers at temples.
The main focus of this festival reflects the teaching of Buddhism that ‘everything in this life is impermanent’. Readings from Buddhist scriptures are carried out on this day which highlights the final days of Lord Buddha.
Kushinagar is the best place where you can observe this festival as Lord Buddha spent his final days there before he laid to rest at Ramabhar stupa.
Next Festival Date: 15th February 2020
- Rumtek Chaam Festival
This festival is celebrated at the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim just two days before Tibetan New Year. It features a special chaam dance that is performed by masked monks which portrays the victory of good over evil.
Photo credit:Flickr / Arian Zwegers / cc by 2.0
This festival showcases the culture of Buddhists who resides in Sikkim. People here make generous offerings at the monastery and prayers are conducted to honor Guru Rimpoche.
This occasion can give you a chance to watch the merrymaking that goes on before the New Year. Buddhist followers dress up elaborately and decorate their houses to mark this festival which itself is a visual treat.
Next Festival Date: 22nd February 2020
- Mani Rimdu Festival
The Sherpa community of Nepal celebrates the Mani Rimdu festival. It has derived its name from a chant of Guru Chenrezig. It is the longest festival which depicts the teachings of Buddhism through dance performances.
A large mandala is prepared with colored sand which takes about four days to complete. A bowl of red blessing pills is placed at the center of the Mandala which is showered on the devotees to bless them.
This ritual is followed by dance presentations. Prayers are conducted at the monastery & in the end, a special fire ritual is observed to destroy evil forces.
Next Festival Date: 25th – 27th October 2019
I am sure by now you must have started planning to visit a Buddhist monument. According to me, you must book the IRCTC packages to visit the famous Buddhist temples.
IRCTC will take you to the famous Sarnath Buddha temple & other destinations where Buddha had taught his first sermon & preached how to attain nirvana.
They will help you visit all these places for a truly religious experience. Below are the places that they will cover in their package:
- Dhamekh Stupa
It is a 34 meters high two-tiered linga and stands as a magnificent monument. There is a positive vibe all around due to which hundreds of pilgrims go there to pay their respects.
- Mulagandha Kuti Vihara
It is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery built-in 1930. It has housed a lot of scriptures, inscriptions and popular shlokas from the Buddhist period.
- Sarnath Museum
It is located in Varanasi which preserves and displays the riches from the Buddhist Period of Buddhist Monastery, Buddhist Temple Stupa, Sarnath Buddha Temple.
- Sacred Ruins
In the 19th Century a British officer discovered an image of Buddha and a stone chest. Since then it has is a highly excavated site which unearths marvelous stupas, monasteries, shrines which are looked after by Archaeological Survey of India.
- Wat Thai
It is a famous Buddhist temple known for its large Buddha Stupa. Its design weaves the five elements of fire, earth, water, space and air in the 80 ft high statue.
Check out https://www.irctcbuddhisttrain.com/ to know more about the itinerary & the package offered by IRCTC.
Please note: You can explore a complete list of worth visiting Buddhist destinations from the monuments section of the UBM website.
The best part is you can also add information about any Buddhist temples in the website.