Nothing equals the aesthetics of oriental temples. Pagodas, arrow stupas, giant structures of stone or wood, many of these holy places have attracted pilgrims for centuries to make prayers and offerings or to seek spiritual light!
Today, these impressive constructions attract tourists and masses of worshippers. Many of them have been honored by UNESCO as part of our world heritage and thus enjoy a veneration that transcends different religions.
Here are 10 of the most amazing temples in the world.
1. Wat Phra Kaeo, Thailand
The most venerable of all temples in the Kingdom of Thailand is the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The name indicates the color of the central icon, the statue being in fact made of a single piece of jadeite. Only the king is allowed to touch the Buddha. He does it three times a year to change his clothes, depending on the season. The temple is located within the grounds of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. It is very photogenic with its reflective tiles, imposing stupas and many exotic statues. Another Bangkok icon, the Reclining Buddha, is located just up the street.
2. Todai-ji, Japan
Initially built in 752 in the city of Nara, this center of Japanese Buddhism once had great political influence. Also known as the Great Temple of the East, this UNESCO-honored site is the largest wooden construction in the world, despite being three times smaller than its original size. Twice destroyed by fire, the main temple seen today was completed in 1709. Inside, visitors can see the largest bronze Buddha statue in existence in Japan. When the statue was completed, it had taken over almost all of the nation’s bronze production and brought Japan to the brink of bankruptcy. ( Photo by RageZ/Flickr Creative Commons )
3. Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Den), Bhutan
Originally, this monastery in Bhutan was a meditation cave and it was not until 1692 that a temple was built in a precarious position, overlooking the Paro Valley. Buddhism arrived in the region in the 7th century and it is said that Guru Rinpoche, known as the second Buddha, flew over the Himalayas from Tibet on the back of a tigress. This place is only one of the many dens of tigers where he would have meditated. The hike up to the monastery takes two hours and, even visitors are generally not allowed to enter, it is mainly the view that matters.
4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Exotic and exciting, Angkor has been the star of several action and adventure films. This monumental temple complex, half overgrown with jungle vegetation and wildlife, was built in the 12th century for King Suryavarman II. Exploring its many structures feels like Indiana Jones, but it’s much more than just a collection of ruins. For example, one can still see ceremonies and offerings at Angkor Wat, which, thanks to its moat, has never really succumbed to the abundance of nature.
5. Bagan, Myanmar
Imagine Angkor, without the encroaching jungle. Spread over a flat area of around 26 square miles along the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River, Bagan was once home to 4,400 temples; 2200 of them are still standing. Built mostly from the 11th to 13th centuries, these temples and pagodas are an important part of world heritage and travelers to them explore all day before choosing one to climb to see the sunset. The photo shows one of the largest, Thatbyinnyu Temple.
6. Borobudur, Indonesia
Actually more of a sanctuary than a temple, this 9th century Buddhist construction located in the center of the island of Java is Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction. Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and every year it attracts pilgrims especially for Vesak (Vesākha), the national holiday. The date, which changes every year, is determined by the full moon in May or June and commemorates the life, death and achievement of Buddha’s enlightenment. With its nine peaks, a base of 123 m2 and a height of 34.5 m, it is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. However, what most visitors won’t notice is that seen from the air, Borobudur looks like a mandala, concentric shapes that represent Buddhist cosmology.
7. The Harmandir Sahib, India
Commonly referred to as the “Golden Temple”, it is a Sikh holy site in Punjab, in northwestern India. The gold-plated structure is surrounded by sparkling white buildings and a reflective lake, whose waters are sacred. It is in this blessed place that the holy scriptures of the Sikh community, the Guru Granth Sahib, are kept. Although it is the most revered of Sikh places, it is open to people of all backgrounds and beliefs. It is for this purpose that it was designed. This openness is symbolized in its four entrances. Visitors can enter, but they must first cover their heads, remove their shoes and wash their feet. One of the best times to visit is during Diwali, the festival of lights,
8. Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, Tibet
At the highest peak in the world, these two Lhasa sights are visible to each other from their own rooftops. They are about a mile apart. The palace was the home of the Dalai Lama until Chinese troops in 1959 put down a failed Tibetan uprising, causing the 14th Dalai Lama to flee. Dating back to the 7th century, the candle-lit temple is the spiritual center of the Tibetan people. They come from all over the country to turn the prayer wheels and make an offering of yak butter.
9. The Temple of Heaven, China
Located in Beijing, this attraction more literally known as the Altar of Heaven is well worth seeing. The Hall of Prayers for the Harvest, a central pavilion in the form of a rotunda, is entirely made of wood and no nails have been used. This Taoist temple, which dates back to the early 15th century, was an important place of prayer for the emperors who performed ceremonies there twice a year, in order to guarantee good weather conditions and therefore good harvests. It was believed that the slightest error in performing this rite could bring adversity. Nowadays, Beijing residents frequently gather in the park for daily exercise.
10. Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
Unlike many other sacred buildings on this list, Wat Rong Khun is very recent. While most other Buddhist temples in Thailand display sparkling collections of colors and tiles, this edifice, which began construction in 1997, is stark white symbolizing the purity of Buddha. Inside there are symbols of the modern world, such as Spiderman and Batman, while outside there are icons traditionally associated with Thai temples, such as the elephant, for example, or the naga, the serpent -dragon. What will surely catch the visitor’s attention is first of all the “gap” of skulls and human hands stretched out towards the bridge that leads to the community hall. The creative genius behind this impressive site, located in northern Thailand,