These temples are famous, unique and carefully designed. They are some great temples ever constructed on Earth. Here are some of them.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

Night view of Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon (“shwe” means gold and “Dagon” is the former name of Yangon) Pagoda is a 98-meter (322 feet) coned shaped giant, golden and glistering stupa which is situated in Yangon, Myanmar. Shwedagon, the “Mother of all pagodas in Myanmar” is the most well-known sacred Buddhist pagoda in Yangon which is also one of the main tourist destinations in Myanmar. This notable pagoda is located at No. 1, Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Dagon Township in Yangon, Myanmar. Archaeologists believed that it was built between the 6th and 10th centuries or 2, 500 years ago by the Burmese King Binnya U of the Mon Dynasty. However, according to the records by Buddhist monks, it was built before the Lord Buddha died in 486 BC.

According to the legend of the pagoda, two trader brothers from Myanmar namely Tapussa and Bhallika led a caravan of bullock-carts to India and there they came across the Buddha who had recently attained His Enlightenment or Buddha hood. They received eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshrined in the Shwedagon Pagoda. Relics of the four former Buddhas are enshrined within the pagoda. They are staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama, the historical Buddha. The myth has it said that when the golden container was opened to where the eight hairs of Buddha were kept, the rays emanated from the hairs rising up to the heaven and down to the hell, enabling the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.

Shwedagon’s golden stupa and its pagoda

The base of the Pagoda has a perimeter of 1,420 feet and its height is 326 feet above the platform. It has been estimated that about 8688 solid gold bars were used to plate its surrounding domes and the main stupa took 13513 solid gold bars. This pagoda has 4 entrances (mouk) that lead to the platform (yin byin) made on the top of the Singuthara Hill. A pair of mystical lions (chinthe) is located on its gates. The second Buddha statue, Konagamana stands on the top of the steps. The base of the stupa is made of bricks and covered with golden leaves. No one knows what is inside the base of the pagoda. According to the legendary tales, there are non-stop flying and turning swords to protect the pagoda from the intruders. Some local people say that there are underground tunnels lead to Bagan and Thailand.

The heavy gilded Shwedagon Pagoda has an octagonal base with eight smaller stupas on each eight sides, summing up a total of 64. At each corner of the platform, Manokthihas (sphinxes) are surrounded by a number of “chintes.” The eight planetary posts at each cardinal point of the compass around the Shwedagon Pagoda are the symbolizations of the eight days of the week, each with its own animal and planet symbol. A gilded Buddha image made of alabaster is placed beside each planetary post.

The Golden Temple, India

Night view of the Golden Temple

The Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib or Sri Darbar Sahib) is the most significant shrine of the Sikhs and it is also one of the oldest Sikh gurudwara. It is located on a small island in the center of a pool called Amritsar (pool of ambrosial nectar), India. Its golden color is due to the overlay of gold foil, and hence it gets its name as a Golden Temple. The idea of establishing this temple was initiated by the 4th guru of the Sikhs, Guru Ram Das (1574 -1581) or more commonly known as “guru di nagri” which carries the meaning of city of the Sikh Guru. This temple was first established in 1601 and was rebuilt by the Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1803. The 5th Nanak, Guru Arjan Sahib (1581 -1606) had conceived the idea of designing the architectural framework of the Golden Temple.

The Golden Temple is built on a 67 feet square platform in the center of the Sarovar (tank). There is a door in the East, West, North and South respectively, and the door flame of its arch is measured 10 feet in height and 8 feet 6 inches in breath. The architecture of the Golden Temple reflects a unique harmony between the Muslims and the Hindus and thus it is regarded as the best architectural specimens in the world. This architectural style has been used to create an independent Sikh school in the history of India. Unlike a traditional Hindu Temple where the devotees have to climb up to offer their salutations as the structure is built on higher level, Guru Arjan Sahib had it created on lower level than its surrounding ground so that it is accessible to every person to offer homage to this holy shrine irrespective of his or her caste (Kshatriya, Brahmin, Sudra or Vaisya), creed, gender, race, color and religion.

White buildings of the Golden Temple

Sarowar is another interesting site to visit. It had been lined with bricks and steps had been built along its sides so that the devout could bathe in the immortal pool. It is interesting to learn that this three-storey-high temple is surrounded by the lake. The body of water is encompassed by a backdrop of bright-white buildings on all its four sides. The Golden Temple is crowned with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus. The two upper storeys have gilded while its lower storey is in white marble. The walls within its entrances are decorated with carved wooden panels and elaborate inlay work in gold and silver. The interior of the temple is decorated with semi precious stones, frescoes and glass works. The best time to visit this temple is in the early morning on weekdays before it gets crowded and visitors are asked to take off their shoes before entering the temple premises.

Another significance feature of the structure of the Golden temple is that it has four entrances to open to worshippers of all castes and creeds and this feature is quite different from most of the Hindu Temples that only have one gate. Other remarkable feature is the scripture of the Sikhs which highlights the importance of the unity of God and brotherhood of man. The scripture compiled by the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji consisting of 1,948 pages and more than 7,000 hymns.

Chion-in Temple, Japan

Winter time of Chion-in Temple

Chion-in (or Chionin) Temple is a large and well-known temple in Japan which is situated in the north of Maruyama Park and Yasaka-jinja Shrine in Kyoto’s Higashiyama District, Japan. It is 8-minute-walk from Higashiyama Subway Station (Tozai Line) or 5-minute-walk from the front bus stop of Chion-in. Being the headquarter of the Jodo Shu (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism, Chion-in is one of the most important and popular sacred sites in Japan. The Jodo sect was founded by Hōnen in the year of 1175, who proclaimed that sentient beings are reborn in Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise (Pure Land) by reciting the nembutsu, Amida Buddha’s name in devotion and faith. His simple teachings have attracted large numbers of followers among the commoners and have helped Jodo Buddhism become the most popular sect in Japan, ahead of the Jodo-shin and Shingon sects. The temple was built in 1234 in the memory of his master and was named Chion-in. Several buildings in the complex were burnt in 1633 and the current buildings are reconstructions dated back from the 17th century under the reign of the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun Lemitsu (1604 – 1651). In October 2002, Chion-in Temple was used in the filming of Tom Cruise’s movie entitled “The Last Samurai.”

Sanmon Gate of Chion-in Temple

Structure of Uguisu-bari

Nightingale Floor

The entrance to Chion-in is through a 24-meter-tall two-storey Sanmon Gate (main gate) and later up a steep flight of stairs. It was the oldest structure built in 1619 and has been designated as a Japanese National Treasure. Its ground is always crowded with people praying before a large brazier that holds small sticks of incense in front of the images of the main hall. The main Hall is big enough to accommodate 3,000 people and the corridor behind this gate leads to the Assembly Hall is called Uguisu-bari (nightingale floor or literally means “bush warbler floor boards”). This type of floor is constructed to “sing” at every footstep to alert the monks of the presence of intruders.

Chion-in Temple’s copper bell

Roof beam is crafted with a feudal family’s crest

Chion-in Temple’s copper bell is the largest and the heaviest in Japan with its weight of 74 tons. It needs 17 people to ring this bell. This bell is so special that particularly during the New Year’s Eve ceremony in which the bell is struck 108 times by 17 monks, representing the 108 desires in the mind to be scared off before the New Year begins in Japan every year. Another interesting feature to note is the roof beams are craved with the family crest of the Tokugawa family: Three hollyhock leaves. Chion-in Temple has a large and small guest houses built in 1641 in the Irimoya roof style called Ohojo and Kohojo which are designated as Important Cultural Heritages in Japan. Other Important Cultural Properties at the temple are buildings such as the Kyo-zo (storehouse for sculptures), Miei-do (hall enshrining the founder of the Jodo sect, Hōnen), Dai-shoro (room for the priest), Dai-shoro (large bell tower), Sho-hojo, Chokushi-mon (gate for Imperial messengers) and Kuri (kitchen and living quarters for the priests).

Kek Lok Si Temple, Malaysia

Night view of Kek Lok Si Temple

Over years, the historical heritage site of Kek Lok Si (Cantonese) Buddhist Temple, the Temple of Supreme Bliss (Penang Hokkien) or “Ji Le Si” (Mandarin) which means the temple of nirvana is one of the main attractions on the island of Penang, Malaysia. This island was once the administrative center for the British East India Company during the colonial days. Kek Loh Si is not only the oldest, well-known and largest temples in Malaysia, but also one of the finest Buddhist temples in the Southeast Asia region. It is situated at the hills of Ayer Hitam, or Crane Hill, which is a place recommended as a retreat for Taoist practitioners striving for immortality. At the hills of Ayer Hitam, visitors can view the panoramic scenery of Penang town.

The Goddess of Mercy

The Kek Lok Si project was mooted by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple of Pitt Street. This project received the sanction of the Manchu Emperor Kuang Hsi with the collaboration of the consular representative of China in Penang. The Emperor Kuang His had then bestowed a tablet and gift of 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras. The construction of Kek Lok Si Temple was first established in 1893, but it was only in 1930, the Thai King, King Rama VI laid the foundation stone for this site and thus it is sometimes referred as Pagoda of Rama VI or the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas. This 30-meter-high and 7-storey pagoda is a mixture of Chinese octagonal base, Thai design at its middle tier, and a Burmese crown, reflecting the temple’s embrace of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This work of ancient Burmese, Chinese and Thai craftsmen took more than 20 years to build. A 30.2-meter-high Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin or Avalokitesvara) statue was completed in 2002. This all bronze Goddess of Mercy statue is flanked by a few tall structures of Luohan (Guards) statues. Another Guanyin head and shoulder section was built atop an annexed temple roof.

Tortoise Liberation Pond

Visitors are recommended to walk all the way up of 193 steps lining with many stalls selling all types of handicrafts, souvenirs and bric-a-brac on both sides of the steps to Kek Lok Si Temple. While catching breath with the blowing wind, you will see a tortoise liberation pond where you can buy some vegetables to feed. Another alternative is to drive up and park near the vegetarian restaurant to avoid walking up flight of stairs. However, you will miss many souvenir stalls lined up both sides of the stairs.

Ban Po Thar or 10,000 Buddha Pagoda

After you get passing all the souvenir stalls, you will reach Ban Po Thar, a seven tier tower with a merge structure of Burmese at the top, Thai in the middle and Chinese at the bottom. In another three-storey shrine, there is a large Thai Buddha image donated by the king of Thailand. Besides that there are also several halls with old and new Buddhas and engravings, bell towers and other typical temple structures to visit at Kek Lok Si Temple. The temple is set against scenic surroundings of beauty and tranquility with some features of gardens, sculptures and shrines. A short tram is available to see the both new and old giant statues of the Goddess of Mercy. Each year, during the Chinese New Year, the entire Kek Lok Si temple will be decorated with many colorful lanterns and lights. At night, when all the lights lit up, it is a beautiful sight to be experienced.

Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Night view of Prambanan Temple

The Prambanan Temple is the biggest and most beautiful typical Hindu temple which is located at Bokoharjo Village, Prambanan, East of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It is 20-minute away from Yogyakarta city or about 18km east of Yogyakarta. Locally, this temple is also known as the Loro Jongrang Temple, or the temple of the “Slender Virgin.” It is believed to have been established in the middle of the 9th century by King Balitung Maha Sambu or Rakai Pikatan, king of the second Mataram dynasty, during the Sanjaya Dynasty. This beautiful temple, in fact, it is a group of Hindu temples (candi), with the largest temple stretching 47m into the sky. The massive collection of Hindu temples was believed to build in the 10th century by the rulers of central Java and defeaters of the Sailendra Dynasty, Mataram Kingdom. Many temples were damaged due to the earthquake in Java in 2006, but it was opened for visitors in 2007. This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia region which has a characteristic of having pointed and typical Hindu temple architecture.

Reliefs at Prambanan Temple

6 out of Pramanan’s 8 main shrines

Many reliefs adorned the temple’s walls depicting the famous epic of Ramayana. It possesses 8 shrines, of which 3 of them are dedicated to manifestations of Hindu Gods of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. Siva is the biggest temple, the other smaller temples; on its right is Brahma and Vishnu is on its left. The main temple of Siva has a height of 130 feet and it contains 4 rooms with 4 statues inside, accommodating the magnificent statue of Shiva’s consort, Durga. In front of the Siva Temple is the temple of Nandi, the bull or a Siva’s transport. The temple of Vishnu or the Protector has 4 arms and its front temple is the temple of the garuda (the mythical-like eagle). The temple of Brahma or the Creator has 4 heads and in front of Brahma’s pad is the temple of the swan which is a Brahma’s vehicle.

The Prambanan Temple has three concentric squares. They are outer square (222 x 390 meters), middle square (110 x 110 meters) and center square (34 x 34 meters) and these squares are surrounded by a one meter boundary wall with gates to connect to the other squares. No temples are found in the outer square, but there are 224 Perwara temples inside the middle square which are lined in 4 rows of temples. The first row contains 68 temples, followed by 60 temples in the second row, 52 temples in the third row and 44 temples in the fourth row. The temples are arranged in a manner that the lower lined outside and gradually getting higher and higher while approaching to its center. There are altogether 16 small and big temples inside the center square. There are also 50 stones of inscriptions written in white, black and red color at Prambanan Temple.

Mahabodhi Temple, India

Night view of Mahabodhi Temple

Bodh Gaya or Bodhgaya is the holiest place associated with the life of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhist religion. Bodh Gaya is located in the central part of the Bihar state in the north-eastern India near the river Niranjana or the Falgu, which is also a part of the greatest Ganges plains and is 13km away from the Gaya town, 450km west of Calcutta, and 90km south of Patna. It was in the 3rd century B.C.; Emperor Asoka built a monastery and temple here. This temple is used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihāra (Pali) but now it is named as the Mahabodhi Temple (literally means “Great Awakening Temple”) that is the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is then become an important Buddhist pilgrimage, a significant archaeological site and a vital study center which attracts many believers and tourists from all over the world every year coming to study Buddhism and the art of meditation, or to absorb the aura of solemn grandeur that surrounds Bodh Gaya. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Panels on the temple walls

Stupa at Mahabodhi Temple

The main image of the Buddha in the Inner Sanctum

Mahabodhi Temple marks the spot where Buddha attained enlightenment and his life of preaching which is located adjacent to a descendent of the original Bodhi Tree. It is marked by stone lotuses and has a 50m (170 feet) tower. The basement of the temple is 15m in length and in breadth with its height of 52m rising in the form of a slender pyramid until it reaches its neck which is cylindrical in shape. On top of the temple are Chatras which symbolize sovereignty of religion. Four towers on its four corners rise gracefully giving a feel of holy structure. Inside the temple in the main sanctum, on an altar, there is a colossal image of Buddha in a sitting posture touching the ground by his right hand (bhumisparsha mudra), facing eastward at the place where Buddha immersed in meditation gazing east under the Bodhi Tree. This image is said to have a history of 1,700 years old. There are carvings on the stupas which aged 2,500 years ago depicting tales from Buddha’s lives. Ratnagar is a place where the Buddha spend one week sitting there and according to the inscription it is believed that five colors came out from his body. Chankaramana is another sacred spot of the Buddha and it is believed that wherever the Buddha put his feet the lotus flowers springing from his footsteps.

The Bodhi Tree

The Buddha’s feet carved into the stone

The 80-feet high Bodhi Tree (Pipal Tree Ficus Religiosa) and a pond is situated inside the temple complex where according to legends, Buddha had meditated here. The present 115-year old Bodhi Tree growing here is the 5th succession of the original tree which Buddha attained enlightenment or Nirvana by sitting under this tree. It was recorded that the original Bodhi Tree’s shoot was taken by a daughter of Ashoka, Bhikkhuni Sangamitta to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century, and the tree was then planted by the Lankan king, Devanampiyatissa at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura and this tree is said to flourish till today. This Bodhi Tree is also documented as the oldest and most venerated tree in the world. The red sandstone is said to be the Vajrasana, diamond throne or the seat of enlightenment, on which Buddha sat on while meditating under the Bodhi Tree. The platform beneath the tree has a stone carving of Buddha’s footsteps where the devout make flower offerings.

Original stone railing dated from 100 B.C.

There are quadrangular stone railing with a height of 0.2m around the Bodhi Tree and the Mahabodhi Temple. Lotus motifs are used among these ancient railings. The older set of railings were made of sandstone dated back to about 150 B.C. while the other set of railings were believed to make from course granite dated back to Gupta period (300 – 600 A.D.). The older set portrays a design of Lakshimi being bathed by elephants, Surya riding a chariot drawn by four horses, but figures of stupas, Garudas are found on the other set. A visit to the Bodh Gaya Archaeological Museum is a must for religious art enthusiasts as they can see gold, bronze and stone images of Buddha. Apart from that a large collection of Buddhist sculptures from 1st century B.C. to 11th century A.D. are well kept at one place here. Another interesting spot to visit is a Jewel Walk or Chankramanar which was built as a low platform adorned with 19 lotuses lining parallel to the Mahabodhi Temple on its north side. It is believed that the Buddha was strolling here while he was in a deep thought during the second week after his supreme attainment. In this place a stupa called Animeschalochana was built which is situated to the north of the Chankramanar.

Since 1953, Bodh Gaya had an architectural amalgamation of many cultures as it had been developed as an international place of pilgrimage. Most Buddhists came over from different countries to construct their representative architectural monasteries in Bodh Gaya. Thus, one will see a Thai temple which looks very much like a typical colorful Wat of Thailand, Tibetan temple and monastery houses the massive Dharma Chakra or the large prayer wheel, Burmese monastery, Japanese temple (Indosan Niponji) that has a very beautiful image of Buddha brought from Japan, and Tai Bodhi Khan monastery built by Buddhist tribes from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. There are also Vietnamese, Nepalese, Taiwanese, Sri Lankan, Bhutanese, Korean and Bangladeshi monasteries. Many shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship. There were also a large number of images of Buddha and the carved inscriptions showing that pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China and Myanmar had visited this place between 7th and 10th century A.D.

The City of 10,000 Buddhas, United States of America

The Mt. Gate of the City of 10,000 Buddhas

Arhans at the City of 10,000 Buddhas

6-meter statue of a thousand-handed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

The Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas

The City of 10,000 Buddhas which is situated in Talmage, Mendocino Country, California is one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the United States. It was established in 1976 and Master Hsuan-Hua is the founder of this city. The city is noted particularly for its Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Tathagata Monastery, Joyous Giving House (convent), Instilling Virtue Elementary School and Developing Goodness Secondary School, International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts and the Center for East-West Medicine. Another noted feature is the Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas which was constructed in 1982. This hall accommodates a 6-meter statue of a thousand-handed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin). Its walls are adorned with 10,000 images of Buddha. There are also murals adorned the outside wall of Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas. Other interesting features to note have been described in details in my article here.

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